How To | Financial Leadership

3 keys for hospitals seeking to establish a work-from-home setup for patient financial services

How To | Financial Leadership

3 keys for hospitals seeking to establish a work-from-home setup for patient financial services

  • Over a six-year period, Spectrum Health’s Patient Financial Services department implemented a full-time work-from-home (WFH) program for staff and supervisors.
  • A key to successful implementation was establishing expectations that encompassed everything from productivity metrics to specifications for WFH setups and Internet speeds.
  • A crucial consideration was finding ways to keep WFH staff engaged and feeling like part of a team.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced hospital office staff nationwide to work from home full-time, the Patient Financial Services (PFS) department at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Mich., was well-prepared.

Over the preceding six years, the department had steadily implemented a work-from-home (WFH) program that, by March 2020, allowed staff and supervisors to work from home every day.

As part of a presentation with colleagues at HFMA’s Digital Annual Conference, Courtney Guernsey, senior director of patient financial services, explained the process of instituting a viable WFH model for Spectrum's PFS team.

Establishing WFH processes and protocols

In 2014, following requests from staff for a WFH option, Spectrum initiated a pilot wherein staff could work from home one day a week. Challenges that quickly arose included:

  • Lack of productivity and quality measures
  • Lack of requisite technology, including office-issued laptops
  • Inability to make or take work calls or print documents

Over the ensuing six years, Spectrum implemented a variety of solutions, including:

  • All staff were issued company laptops.
  • Soft phones were installed on laptops.
  • Associate-level positions were added, with those employees working on-site and handling paper-based activities such as mailing and printing of claims.

By March 2020, staff and supervisors could work from home every day. Later that month, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting operations for hospitals across the country, Spectrum was in position to easily move all managers, directors and most remaining in-office staff to full-time WFH status.

3 keys to a viable WFH program

Guernsey described three primary areas of focus in Spectrum's efforts to create a well-functioning WFH program. 

Planning. “Start planning early, collect data to ensure you have baseline productivity metrics for every position, set productivity and quality expectations with leaders and staff and make sure all expectations are documented,” Guernsey said.

Some of the expectations involved WFH workspace setups and Internet speed requirements. Spectrum also provided tools and equipment to ensure employees could have an ergonomic setup at home.

Auditing. Quality and productivity reporting should be generated for each user. “This is critical to make sure that staff are working efficiently and that you're able to keep tabs on what folks are doing from home and what barriers they might be experiencing,” Guernsey said.

Auditing processes should be automated to prevent them from being administratively burdensome, she added. Spectrum uses software tools to monitor quality, productivity and work time.

Staff engagement. “When outlining a work-from-home strategy for your staff, be sure to keep staff engagement as a number-one priority,” Guernsey said.

Spectrum has implemented mandatory weekly team huddles and encourages staff to turn on their webcams, “so we can have face-to-face conversations and maintain that personal feel.”

Another collaborative tool is an online portal where staff can hang out and chat like they typically would in the office.

PFS leadership uses other approaches to promoting engagement, including:

  • Publishing a monthly newsletter to document departmental happenings and highlights, organizational initiatives, birthdays and major life events for staff
  • Performing virtual rounding with staff to make sure they feel acknowledged and supported
  • Using traditional mail to send notes of appreciation, birthday cards and other tokens that previously would have been delivered in-person

“The one concern that always continues to surface in staff surveys is the feeling of being disconnected,” Guernsey said. “We continue to strive to find creative ways to keep staff involved and engaged.”

About the Author

Nick Hut

is a senior editor with HFMA (nhut@hfma.org). Follow Nick on Twitter @HFMANickHut.

Sign up for a free guest account and get access to five free articles every month.

Advertisements

Related Articles | Financial Leadership

News | Labor Cost Management

Healthcare labor update: Employment data and research findings underscore ongoing challenges

As highlighted in new employment data and new studies, the healthcare labor market continues to constrain hospitals.

Blog | Healthcare Business Trends

Hospital margins increased in November, but labor expenses remained a drag on finances

A skewed labor market continued to affect hospital finances in November even as operating margins improved from October.

News | Artificial Intelligence

Key takeaways from HFMA’s latest Outlook Survey: Healthcare finance professionals anticipate technology-driven changes

HFMA’s most recent Outlook Survey of healthcare finance professionals highlights the potential of technology to usher in big changes in upcoming years.

Column | Leadership

Relief meets reality: The pandemic is not over yet

HFMA President and CEO Joe Fifer reflects on another challenging year for healthcare.