Revenue cycle expert endorses 'workpooling'

Healthcare organizations need to adjust their priorities – not in the way they treat patients, but in how they distribute work in the office. That message was conveyed to attendees of the Maine chapter of the Healthcare Financial Management Association's annual conference last week during a session on work productivity.

“The way you’re driving work to people may actually be costing you money,” said Lincoln Fish, co-founder and senior vice president of Avadyne Health, a revenue cycle management services company with corporate offices in Illinois.

Traditionally, healthcare organizations have based their workflow on work lists – a format by which workers are pre-assigned segments of work. The work list model is an inefficient one, Fish said, because you can’t sort the work by priority. He recommended "workpooling" as an efficient alternative.

Workpooling, Fish explained, distributes the work in such a way that the most important work gets done first.

Workpooling is based on the retail industry’s queuing theory, which most people have experienced as a customer of a bank or retail store. All the customers waiting for a bank teller or retail cashier get into a single line and wait for the next available teller or cashier. This workflow process, said Fish, has been estimated by retailers to speed up the customer experience by as much as 38 percent.

How does this retail theory translate to healthcare? “In our world, it’s actually not that difficult to apply; we just don’t do it,” Fish said.

Healthcare organizations can use workpooling to get larger claims processed first, for example, thereby potentially bringing in more money without having to crank out as many claims as possible in a day.

“There’s work that needs to get done,” he continued, “so let’s figure out how to make sure the most important work is getting done all the time.”

Using workpooling, you get the same number of workers working the same number of hours but a potential for a higher level of results-oriented productivity.

And you don’t need expensive technology to manage the workflow, he said. It can be as simple as putting together a spreadsheet where the accounts that need processing are ordered by importance. As the accounts are tackled one by one, workers log their names next to the account they have worked on.

The only time workpooling doesn’t work, Fish said, is when all the work is actually getting done.

“If you can tell me that you get to every single account in a timely manner and you follow up when you’re supposed to and you don’t write things off…then I say you don’t need it,” he said. Otherwise, “just try it.” The potential rewards, he noted, are worth the small effort.