The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic required nearly all businesses to reexamine the virtual work environment. While some healthcare revenue cycle departments easily expanded existing work-from-home models, others scrambled to adopt virtual workforce policies and get their staff members up and running to conduct business operations from their homes.
While it’s unknown what “business as usual” will look like on the other side of the pandemic, one thing is sure: Organizations need to adopt successful work-from-home policies that allow for continuation of business and safety of staff if conditions, such as a pandemic or other emergency, make remote work necessary or if the institution chooses to adopt a virtual work environment.
Defining work-from-home success: What the data shows
At the pandemic’s start, revenue cycle leaders, like many executives across various industries, had concerns not only about the physical transition to a virtual work environment but also about whether and how their staff – and business operations – would thrive. They wondered how they would be able to manage their employees successfully while keeping their business productive.
Historically, healthcare revenue cycle departments have operated predominantly in person. Organizations typically have operated out of on-site business offices, with most employees working side by side with their colleagues. At the pandemic’s start in early 2020, all that changed within a matter of weeks.
While several prominent businesses in various sectors have made the news after announcing their extended work-from-home policies,1 less information has been documented about the duration of remote healthcare revenue cycle departments’ policies. Although questions remain about whether a virtual workforce ultimately will be a successful workforce for healthcare finance departments, current data provides hints about whether this model could be successful in the long term. In particular, data about accounts receivable (AR) performance and hospital volumes offers clues, and answers might differ based on the type of hospital or health system.
In an examination of COVID-19’s impact on AR performance in a sample of 1,500 U.S. hospitals, data comparing July 2019 and July 2020 AR balances shows a slight increase (0.7%) in those balances in 2020 despite a decline in hospital volume by an average of 14.4%.2 Why could this be?
Among the 1,500 hospitals studied, rural hospitals were more than two times more likely than urban hospitals to experience a 10%-plus increase in AR days. Part of this increase might be due to the fact that rural organizations were more likely than urban facilities to continue elective procedures and therefore maintain higher volumes. However, another significant factor might be that rural hospitals typically have had a more difficult time moving their workforces to a virtual environment due to technological barriers, distance among work sites, and other issues that hinder their ability to work accounts successfully and efficiently.