How Does Healthcare Revenue Cycle Recover from COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the healthcare industry, and the revenue cycle function has not been spared. Suddenly, our healthcare system became largely focused on inpatient care, as patients with serious, life-threatening complications due to COVID-19 overwhelmed hospitals. In many cases these patients have ended up in the ICU, where a significant number are intubated and then potentially ventilated for significant periods of time. At the same time, visits to doctors’ offices, as well as elective surgeries and other outpatient procedures, were mostly put on hold—partly because many more healthcare professionals were needed to provide emergency and inpatient care, especially in the places where pandemic victims presented early in large numbers. The suspension of much non-emergent care was also connected to the need to enact far more stringent COVID-19 safety measures for every healthcare environment.

Revenue Cycle’s Needs Have Changed

Naturally, the sudden change in care had an effect on revenue cycle operations. Staff members who were used to code for outpatient procedures and other non-emergent outpatient care weren't needed at the same volume. Simultaneously, their counterparts skilled in coding for inpatient care were overwhelmed by the volume of billing and processing. Many hospitals, who had become reliant on expensive outsourced coders, suddenly realized that this component of the coding workforce could be eliminated. These were typically the first part of the revenue cycle workforce to be furloughed.

Multiple months after the onset of the pandemic, COVID-19 is not over, with parts of the United States heavily in its grip and infections increasing in some areas. At the same time, the healthcare system is opening up again to provide a broader range of non-COVID care, albeit under far more stringent conditions.

Meeting Coding Needs as the Healthcare System Reopens

Now that many healthcare organizations have reduced their dependence on outsourced coding, how can they meet their coding needs as care volumes and patient procedures recover? One is to use training and education to transition revenue cycle staff into other positions, and especially to prepare them for specialties and specialized coding. Ultimately, the most cost-effective option is for healthcare organizations to develop their own coders, and to bring coding back in house. As the volume of care returns, doing so will pay off in terms of expertise and staffing flexibility.

Grow Your Own Coders and Coding Specialists

In partnership with nThrive, the Transitions program from HealthStream was expressly designed to expand the coding workforce. This product, which enables healthcare organizations to train skilled medical coders in as few as 11 weeks, won a Brandon Hall award for a project where the State of Vermont and the U.S. Department of Labor Apprentice Program partnered to expand the skills of the local workforce. According to nThrive, the average cost of recruiting a coder is $6,000; however, the cost for a subscription to the nThrive education to develop a coder is just $1200. For about one-sixth of the cost, no wonder it makes sense to upskill existing staff in your efforts to expand your coding workforce. Likewise, nThrive offers education for coding specialties, including assessments that allow organizations to tailor training to learner needs. Learn more about how nThrive education can help prepare your organization’s revenue cycle function respond to the challenges of COVID-19 and get back to business afterwards.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in the article excerpted here was considered current at the time of its publishing. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is an ever-evolving disaster due to new findings, data, and availability of resources. Please refer to the CDC website for the latest detailed information when you need it.

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