REMOTE BILLERS: AN ANSWER TO BILLING STRUGGLES
Struggling to find billing help? As billing becomes more complicated, our industry faces increasing problems finding skilled workers. Good billers do not grow on trees. Providers serve people in every nook and cranny of the country; but the staff we need is not always plentiful in the areas we work. The answer – consider hiring remote workers!
Remote workers are not a new concept. One study projects that by 2028, 73% of all work teams will have remote workers. Though 2028 sounds far away, numerous healthcare organizations currently use remote staff including Aetna, Anthem, CVS Health, Humana, Merck, United Healthcare and others. More importantly, there are ambulance billing companies and ambulance billing offices who today utilize a remote work staff. I, too, managed a staff of 35 remote nurses who performed medical necessity reviews. It was a successful approach that broadened and enriched our staff. Whether you allow your current staff to telecommute or you expand your pool of candidates by hiring from a-far, here are things to consider:
- Are you a growing billing department without enough space? Consider allowing staff to telecommute and stagger hours. This can free precious office space.
- Determine who among the current in-house staff would be eligible for telecommuting. Also consider opening positions for remote staff from other areas.
- Determine work hours – decide if everyone works at the same time – or – is it more important that work get done, so when that happens is up to the employee. One successful approach I have seen is to agree that everyone is available for a certain time. For example, all staff is available from 10 am to 3 pm which allows for collaboration, conference calls, routine communication. Other than that, people can set their own hours (Mary works from 7 am to 3 pm; Joe works from 10 am to 6 pm). I have found it best if staff hours are set; once Mary decides on the 7 am to 3 pm shift, she stays with it.
- Consider 7 day a week staffing. This provides flexibility in days off. Again, I support having a set schedule – Mary works from Saturday through Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday off.
- There must be a good supervisor/manager whose availability is well publicized.
- Look for people who are self-motivated, efficient, resourceful, and good communicators. It is important that remote workers have the skill to get themselves going and stay on task. It doesn’t matter that they work in their furry slippers and sweats; it matters that they can work well without supervision.
- Develop a good training program. Training serves two goals – it provides the staff with needed information on how to do the job. Moreover, it brings new hires into the team and makes them feel part of the group. There is a use for webinars and online training, but I recommend bringing new hires on site. Yes, that does mean having them travel and housing them for the week or two of onsite training, but it cements the bond with the organization. Further, it allows management to see the new staff member in action.
- Equip the remote staff. Give them a computer/laptop to use. IT can set the equipment up with necessary software and discuss access to the company network. Access must be secure, and HIPAA compliant which IT can tackle. VPN’s are usually used. Consider restricting or prohibiting remote employees from printing or downloading confidential documents. This is another topic to discuss with the IT department. There should be good and responsive IT support for remote staff when needed.
- There must be policies. In addition to your usual policies and procedures, have a policy about where a remote worker can work. Remote staff should work in a secure location which ensures information stays protected. The policy should address that the use of public spaces is unacceptable; Starbucks has WIFI and is a great place to browse the news or social media on a laptop, but not the place for doing billing work or making work calls.
- Another policy topic may be internet speed. The staff must be able to be efficient. There can be a policy that requires a certain level of internet speed and availability.
- There needs to be a policy about who works when during weather events or power outages. For example, the main office located in Minnesota may close during a blizzard – does this mean that the remote staff working in Arizona also stops working? The topic of worksite closure needs to be outlined.
- Establish performance standards. People who do pre-billing/verification may be given an expectation of a number of trips/day that need to be verified. Someone who follows-up on denials should be given guidance and expectations on how many appeals get handled.
- Track performance and give feedback. This means there must be a good internal audit process in place. It does no good if a biller or pre-biller completes a volume of tasks, but those tasks need to be reworked, or worse yet, lead to denials. This is CRITICAL – measure the outcome of the work, not merely the number of claims or trips touched.
- Communicate. Communicate. Communicate! Have routine staff calls. Respond promptly to emails or internal messaging. This is the most important step to having a successful remote team.
Several times a week, I get asked if I know someone looking for billing help or I get asked if I know someone who is looking for a billing job. The answer to both questions is, “YES!” Trouble is, the questioners are not in the same location. It’s a problem that can be fixed.
Let us know if we can help!
About the Author
Maggie Adams is the president of EMS Financial Services, with over 25 years’ experience as a business owner and reimbursement and compliance consultant. Known for a practical approach and winning presentation style, Maggie has worked with medical transportation providers and billing companies of all kinds to provide auditing services, assess their billing for best practices and support their billing and documentation training efforts.