Financial services staff can be a hospital's secret weapon

They are some of the most important staff members in a healthcare organization, yet in many cases patient financial services staff are also the most overlooked 

Far too often, patient financial services staff are viewed as simple clerical workers who perform tasks that anyone can do, according to a column from the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA). That misapprehension has led Chris Kiser, vice president of financial services at Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS), to work to educate healthcare leaders on the value of patient financial services staff and the service they actually provide.

“I encourage the administrators of our various hospitals to go watch our team so they can see how complicated what they have to do is,” Kiser told HFMA. “If people don’t do it every day, they don’t appreciate the complexity of the job.”

Patient financial services involves more than data entry, They take care of patient access, financial counseling and pre-service price estimations, the article notes. Therefore, Kiser said, when he recruits new talent for his department, he’s not just looking for a good clerk, he hires based on personality.

Over the years, Kiser said, the profile of a successful employee on his 900-member team has changed. While attention to detail is important, he said, so are people skills. It’s vital that patients have a good experience with the first person they see, according to Kiser.

CHS’ training for patient financial services employees also includes customer service training to ensure staff understand how a bad initial encounter can affect patient experience, which can actively hurt hospitals’ bottom lines.

There’s an art to collecting money for services as well, according to Kiser, and CHS training incorporates that into training. Financial services staff use scripts for point-of-service collections, which are on the rise due to high-deductible health plans, to help acclimate them to the process. This includes the likelihood that many patients will not understand their financial responsibilities for the services provided. Not only does this approach benefit the hospital’s finances, Kiser said, it creates a culture of patient-centered care by training staff to put patients first even in seemingly trivial areas.