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Revenue Cycle Management

ASC billing office process improvement

ASC Billing Office Process Improvement – Conducting a Quarterly Review

By | ASC Management, Leadership, Revenue Cycle Management | No Comments

The saying goes, “Old habits die hard.” But in the ASC billing office, repeating the same mistakes costs time, money, and resources. Hence, the process of identifying process inefficiencies and areas of improvement is a constant responsibility for an effective ASC billing office. It is generally good practice to conduct a complete billing office process improvement evaluation and plan implementation at the end of each financial quarter. At the close of a quarter, there is enough data to review, identify, and correct negative trends. The start of a new quarter provides a clean slate for tracking the impact of the changes three months from now.

Where to begin?

Start by identifying your weaknesses by analyzing available data. This data can come from your patient accounting system and/or clearinghouse. Error tracking allows you to quantify mistakes that prevent clean claims. Reviewing clearinghouse rejection reports may identify trends. If you regularly find the same rejections, log the incidence as well as the resolution changes you make to help you identify and correct the issue. It may also be beneficial to review adjustment journal codes and ensure they meet your tracking needs in case you need to analyze payment or adjustment trends. These metrics can help you identify training opportunities for your staff at all stages of your billing cycle.

Collaboration

In an efficient billing office, a system of checks and balances establishes itself when billing tasks are departmentalized. The schedulers provide the patient and billing information, verification confirms the feasibility of the case under the provided circumstances, coders translate the visit for delivery to the insurance carrier, data entry qualifies the billing information, and accounts receivable ensures maximum reimbursement for the team’s efforts. Each subsequent person that handles the information relies on the previous person’s understanding of healthcare billing. Every individual’s work is verified, but not repeated, in the next step in the process. When each of these groups of people are housed in the same location, collaboration is as simple as looking over the cubicle wall. If your ASC billing office is off-site, the frequency and timeliness in which front office errors are communicated may impact the ASC billing office revenue cycle. It is important to have timely and frequent communication in this scenario.

Cross-train

Requests should not be put on hold when someone is out sick! Besides needing backup to cover absences, cross-training allows employees to understand how people in other roles manage their time and contribute to the success of the team. Transparency among departments and roles invites accountability. The quarterly billing office process improvement review is a perfect time to identify areas where cross-training is needed to fill gaps and/or back up a role.

Empower

A billing office’s process improvement plan success is dependent on the team’s commitment to the improvements. Encourage staff to participate and take charge of change. They perform the tasks that bring the money in the door. Policies and procedures sound good on paper, but execution can reveal unexpected roadblocks. Your team has ideas of how to prevent issues and improve the process. Implement the solutions that will work best for your team and your center.

Re-evaluate

CMS guidelines, fee schedules, CPT/ICD-10/HCPCS codes, pre-certification lists, and coverage policies – this information changes monthly, quarterly, annually. Subscribe to insurance company newsletters and follow medical societies, revenue cycle resources, and vendors. Assign someone to distribute beneficial information to affected groups of people. This may include surgeons, their billing office, facility administrators, and insurance verification specialists, in addition to your own revenue cycle team. The information released may force you to take yet another look at your revenue cycle needs and adjust as necessary!

Summary of Tips for ASC Billing Office Process Improvement

Make it regular. ASC billing office process improvement review should take place on a regular basis, whether conducted monthly, quarterly, or on another schedule.

Review the data. Reviewing rejected claims logs and other data allows you to identify trends and billing office inefficiencies.

Promote team collaboration. Billing office roles will naturally back each other up when operating in sync with collaboration.

Incorporate occasional cross-training. A fresh set of eyes can provide valuable insight into simple changes that can increase efficiency or reduce errors.

Don’t leave out clinical roles. They have valuable insights that can affect coding and thus reimbursement. Evaluate the use of expensive implants and supplies to ensure you are billing and collecting as your contracts allow.

Re-evaluate and update regulatory information. It is crucial to the essential function of the ASC billing office to maintain accurate and up-to-date records when it comes to CMS guidelines, fee schedules, CPT/ICD-10/HCPCS codes, pre-certification lists, and coverage policies. This should also be a part of the regular ASC billing office process improvement review.

The only constant in the healthcare industry is change. When so many professionals rely on your office for the financial deliverables of their organization, as in the ASC billing office, it is imperative to stay up-to-date with industry changes. Regular review of your internal processes is the best way to keep up.


Bethany Bueno, Director of Billing Operations

Onboarding a New Department Manager

Onboarding a New Department Manager

By | ASC Management, Leadership, Revenue Cycle Management | No Comments

For those in ASC leadership, building the right management team is essential to success. This primary objective should not be taken lightly. Once you build an effective team culture with dynamic and engaged individuals, you can expect to make meaningful progress towards organizational goals. Thus, the process for finding and hiring management team members should be a selective one, based on your organizational needs. But what happens once you have selected and hired new management team members? How do you effectively integrate new department managers into your company and cultivate dynamic, engaged team members?

One key to the success of a new manager is a solid onboarding program. Anecdotal evidence shows, properly onboarding an employee can lead to higher job satisfaction, decreased occupational stress, enhanced company commitment, and improved employee retention.

A thoughtful onboarding program eases a new or existing employee’s transition into a new role, ensuring the individual has the tools needed to succeed. Without it, you will likely be performing another employment search soon.

Joining an existing team may be difficult for the new manager and existing team members who have already formed working relationships. So, how do you create an onboarding process that works for all members of your team?

Onboarding takes many shapes and forms, including, but not limited to, meetings, printed materials, one-on-one training, webinars, and corporate retreats. It’s not just training and education – there is also a social aspect to onboarding.

An example of how you may choose to approach employee onboarding for new department managers is outlined below. The process is outlined from a global perspective. As you read, consider how you might incorporate specific actions for your company.

Let’s get the onboarding process started! Day 1:

  • Make the new manager feel welcomed. Ensure their office, computer, phone, etc. are set up and ready for use.
  • Walk through the office and make personal introductions to colleagues.
  • Hand the new manager off to HR for completion of all the necessary employment forms and benefits enrollment.
  • Schedule meetings with other managers and key personnel. Share informative insights on the organizational culture and important team initiatives.
  • Set the tone, framework, and timing for learning. Be open to the process and willing to change timelines based on individual needs.

It is important to be patient during the initial onboarding process. Listen to the feedback and questions from the new manager. Not everyone is comfortable forging ahead or immediately creating relationships in a new company. Many might be hesitant to ask questions. Even new managers with industry experience have much to learn about this unfamiliar environment. It is our job to make sure they are given ample opportunity to absorb all the information and have the tools needed to succeed.

Onboarding checklist guide

It can be helpful to maintain a detailed onboarding checklist to guide you through the manager’s initial employment period. Some of the items you may want to include on your first 90-day checklist follow.

  • Set a 90-day expectation of objectives and performance.
  • Discuss the onboarding checklist in detail – and I mean detail!
  • Be available to mentor and coach daily. Make yourself available to discuss ideas and perceptions with the new manager and how to proceed.
  • Establish regular reporting with the new manager, perhaps weekly. Determine the reporting format and due dates. These reports may provide you with insight about the progress or struggles of the new manager as you move through the onboarding process.
  • Share a company organization chart and make introductions, demonstrating the bench strength and support of the company infrastructure.
  • Schedule regular one-on-one sessions to review the progress of onboarding and performance objectives. Identify tasks/initiatives which need further review and education. Identify initiatives from the orientation checklist which need to be added.
  • Schedule or incorporate the manager into existing management meetings and encourage collaboration from everyone present.
  • Observe, listen, and support. These activities will likely provide additional insight into the manager’s performance and how they are integrating into the company.
  • Complete a 90-day evaluation and thoroughly review the orientation checklist. Ensure any area that has not been adequately covered is addressed.

Following up

Once the new employee has successfully completed the initial employment period, don’t make the mistake of cutting the cord. Continue to offer relevant opportunities for education and development.

Figuratively speaking, it is common for companies to let the manager jump into the pool before they know if there is water in it. This tactic typically does not allow the new manager to get up to speed more quickly. Rather, it will likely delay the successful results you were hoping for from the beginning. Alternatively, giving your new manager adequate training and introduction to the company’s philosophy before overloading them with responsibilities sets them up for the best possibility of success.

Hiring is challenging enough, but once you have done your due diligence and recruited the person you want to your team, your job is not complete. An effective onboarding process requires putting in the time to foster training, provide support, and cultivate positive relationships. You want this to be a long-term win-win for the employee, the company, the clients, and you.


Carol Ciluffo, VP of Revenue Cycle Management

Revenue Cycle Management Processes: Establishing a Status Quo and Incorporating Input from New Employees

Revenue Cycle Management Processes: Establishing a Status Quo and Incorporating Input from New Employees

By | ASC Management, Revenue Cycle Management | No Comments

It’s Monday morning and one of your billing office employees walks in with a bizarre patient statement. To make matters even worse, your employee’s work on the statement does not reflect your office’s revenue cycle management processes. Where did this statement come from? How long have your employees employed this process? Where did the communication go wrong?

Perhaps your organization is in growth mode and new staff began implementing experiences and practices from their previous employers. Their understanding of the best way to proceed may not align with your company’s established revenue cycle management processes. Additional education or retraining is necessary.

Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your processes to assess if they still meet your business needs. If you’re not auditing your current protocols, how do you really know they are effective?

Consider the following practices to ensure successful communication is being delivered to your billing office employees. These suggestions will also ensure your processes remain relevant and effective.

  • Create, implement, and adhere to a robust onboarding process. This helps managers and trainers provide each new employee with the same foundation. A key onboarding element is spending time in other departments to gain an understanding of how each department contributes to the process. If you don’t have a well-defined new employee onboarding process, you need one. The orientation period is the most important opportunity to position new employees for success.
  • Hold educational boot camps when issues arise. It may be much easier to hold short 15-minute topic-specific meetings to address identified issues, than a 30 minute or an hour-long meeting designed to cover multiple topics. This tactic will allow you to be very detailed in reviewing and educating your team about the specific processes or issues in question. Addressing one topic per meeting leads to a greater chance your team will adopt your revenue cycle management processes. Addressing multiple topics in the same meeting may cause the team to become overwhelmed and lose direction, not knowing what to tackle first.
  • Review your policy and procedure manual. Engage your team members in revamping or creating revenue cycle management processes. Allow them to review existing policies to determine if they are still relevant. Retraining and education naturally occur through this type of employee engagement — a win-win for your team.
  • Allow employees to cross-train or shadow in different departments. Confusion often occurs when multiple departments are part of a process. Allowing employees to cross-train or shadow in departments other than their own will help them understand the process in its entirety. Once they have a clear understanding of the entire process, they are better equipped to problem-solve in areas they can control to help their colleagues. Time spent cross-training or shadowing also allows employees to establish relationships and team build with one another.
  • Audit, and then audit some more. Audits don’t have to be cumbersome. A high-level review can reveal where you need to focus your attention. The issues you discover may apply to only one employee and may not be departmental problems.

Bottom line: don’t bury your head in the sand and hope for the best. When adding new team members, training, education, and communication are your best shots for success to ensure their understanding and continuous use of current, relevant revenue cycle management processes. Allowing new team members to suggest alternate ways of proceeding is a bonus for the organization. Their fresh perspective may lead to improvement of established or outdated processes.


Carol Ciluffo, VP of Revenue Cycle Management

ASC Business Office Checkpoints: Improving Your Surgery Center’s Bottom Line

ASC Business Office Checkpoints: Improving Your Surgery Center’s Bottom Line

By | ASC Management, Revenue Cycle Management | No Comments

If your ASC business office is not meeting their performance metric benchmarks, it may be time to re-evaluate your revenue cycle management policies and procedures. Business office personnel who serve on the front-end (scheduling and insurance verification, for example) and those who serve on the back-end (billing office personnel) must work as a team to achieve your ASC’s key performance indicators.

There are natural checkpoints built in to revenue cycle management. When striving to meet performance benchmarks, you and your staff can take advantage of these natural checkpoints if you know how to use them. For example, both your patient accounting system and clearinghouse have resources available to help identify opportunities for improvement. Additionally, internal tracking processes, including logs and dashboards, allow you to sort through preventable errors and identify staff members who need additional education and training.

Regular evaluation of revenue cycle policies and procedures on the front and back end of your process can assist supervisors, managers, and administrators address weaknesses, improve performance, and enhance your ASC’s bottom line.

Where do you start?

Begin your evaluation at the initial receipt of patient information. Schedulers and insurance verification personnel are at the front end of your financial flow. Accurate data entry is crucial to proper registration, eligibility, and authorization. Data entry errors, including incorrect policy numbers or failure to obtain subscriber date of birth, may create billing delays. To minimize unnecessary rejections and denials, consider developing and using a scheduling checklist.

A scheduling checklist includes guidelines on information your surgery schedulers must collect to ensure there are no omissions or errors when the ASC billing office submits a claim. This tool can reduce time delays in claim filing and eliminate the need to re-work rejected claims. Regular review of clearinghouse rejections can help you create and add to your scheduling checklist by identifying areas in which staff may be prone to making errors.

Monitoring patient benefits

Schedulers and insurance verification personnel also need a solid understanding of patient benefits. Knowing how to determine a patient’s outstanding deductible, predict coinsurance, pre-collect co-payments, and coordinate patient benefits are essential to success. To automate this process, integrate your clearinghouse whenever possible. Insurance websites also provide free tools that assist in determining patient benefits, eligibility, and financial responsibility. Evaluate the accuracy, efficiency, and effectiveness of your scheduling and verification team by running reports from your patient accounting system. Review the total dollars pre-collected each month and challenge your team to break their record the following month. Celebrate their successes! And ensure you educate staff about when and why to use an Advance Beneficiary Notice (ABN).[1]

Establishing self-pay policies for procedures performed at the facility which are not covered by insurance is also important. Ensure your team is familiar with in-network insurance carriers as well as the procedures and implants those carriers reimburse. Insurance carriers regularly publish and update pre-authorization lists. Track and evaluate denials attributable to no authorization, non-coverage due to place of service, and out-of-network write-offs. Set targets for the ASC business office team to increase collections and decrease denials. When target goals are met, reward your team for their efforts. Motivation and direction make a difference when seeking improvements.

What happens after submitting a claim?

Once a case is billed, use denial tracking to identify areas of education for coders and surgeons. Encourage coding staff to take a second look at medical necessity denials. A simple query to the physician can mean the difference between payment and non-payment. Review this information to identify areas for improvement. Denials related to bundling[2] might mean a coder requires additional education on proper modifier use. Medical necessity denials can indicate operative note templates need to be updated or coding staff need additional access to pertinent patient records.

Educate everyone about the cases that can and cannot be performed in your ASC. National Correct Coding Initiative (NCCI) edits and a list of approved ASC procedures can be found on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) website or the website for the facility’s Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC).[3] Centralize front and back end staff access to your approved procedures lists and assign someone to review and update them on a regular basis.

Another checkpoint technique is separating the duties of your charge entry, payment posting, and follow-up teams. This introduces another layer of accountability. As your accounts receivable (follow-up) personnel work their aging reports, they can identify charge entry and payment posting habits that require education or training to improve accuracy and timeliness of account resolution. Payment posters will provide a second set of eyes on write-offs and can supply additional insight into tackling appeals and securing reimbursement. Accounts receivable personnel can also prevent timely filing issues by following up on accounts as soon as 30-45 days after the date of service. Regular reconciliation of unbilled claims in comparison to cases performed prevents missed cases.

Improving the flow in the ASC business office

There are numerous opportunities to tighten the flow of patient information from scheduling to final payment. Cross-checking information at critical points in the ASC revenue cycle reduces billing delays and preventable denials. Separation of duties among ASC billing office staff allows you to build natural checkpoints into your system, preventing costly errors including unnecessary write-offs. Once areas for improvement have been identified, set achievable goals and timelines for your staff, then celebrate their successes.


Bethany Bueno, Director, Billing Operations, Specialty Billing Solutions


[1] An Advance Beneficiary Notice (ABN) is given to patients to forewarn that Medicare may deny payment for their treatment.

[2] A bundling denial occurs when a procedure requires a qualifying procedure be received and covered and the qualifying other procedure has not been performed or adjudicated. A denial related to unbundling occurs when several CPT codes are billed for a service when one inclusive code is available.

[3] A Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) is a private health care insurer that has been awarded a geographic area or “jurisdiction” to regionally manage the policies and medical claims for Medicare Part A and Part B Fee-For-Service (FFS) beneficiaries.

Addressing Patient Requests for Charity Care or Financial Hardship at Your ASC

Addressing Patient Requests for Charity Care or Financial Hardship at Your ASC

By | ASC Management, Payor Contracting, Revenue Cycle Management | No Comments

As insurance plans continue to shift more of the financial burden of health care to patient, providers receive more requests for charity care or financial assistance. Health care services have become unaffordable for many, forcing some patients to avoid necessary treatment if they do not receive substantial financial discounts.

Does your ASC have a process in place to address the rise in patient co-pays and deductibles, and the growing need for charity care?

One option for dealing with patient payments is to waive co-pays or deductibles to avoid the process altogether. Such a tactic, however, could lead you straight into legal issues related to the False Claims Act, Anti-Kickback Statutes, and non-compliance with managed care agreements. Additionally, there are state specific laws addressing waiver of co-payments and deductibles. The best response is to develop sound financial hardship and charity care policies to help you legally and consistently navigate these waters.

What is the difference between charity care and financial hardship?

There are no formal definitions for charity care or financial hardship. Health care entities use a variety of terms including, but not limited to, uncompensated care, charity assistance, and bad debt. In Pinnacle III’s managed facilities, we have established distinct definitions to minimize confusion and enhance communication.

Charity care is free care. The patient simply has little to no means to pay for needed medical services. The benchmark for receiving charity care is typically set using family income between 100% and 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). A chart with percentages of the poverty guidelines listing yearly and monthly levels can be found online.[1] The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services releases U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines which are updated every year using Census Bureau data. The current data can be found online.[2] If you choose to use this method, make sure you update your policy annually when the new guidelines are released.

Work with your Board of Directors to determine what poverty level you will use to grant a charity care service. You may want to consider a sliding scale as listed below; however, charity care is typically “free.”

An example of a sliding scale is:

Below 250% of FPL: 100% charity care
Between 251%-300% FPL: 75% discounted care
Between 301%-400% FPL: 60% discounted care

If you choose to implement a sliding scale, keep your procedure costs in mind. Set your lowest discounted rate at or slightly above Medicare reimbursement which should allow you to break even on the services being provided.

Some ASC’s establish a “Charity Care Day” for a set number of patients who have cleared the Center’s approval process. On this day the providers, staff, and even some vendors donate their time and/or resources for the charity care surgical cases. This practice demonstrates significant commitment to the Center’s community. Share with the local newspapers or launch a public relations effort to alert your community to your initiative to help those in need.

While charity care is “free,” financial hardship is a request for discounted care. Some of the other terms used to describe financial hardship are economic burden, economic hardship, financial burden, financial distress, and financial stress. Being under-insured, having no insurance, and increasing medical costs are situations that contribute to financial hardship. When reviewing a financial hardship request, it is essential to have patients substantiate their financial need. In some cases, patients with insurance who choose not to file their claim with the insurance company, may not be eligible for your financial hardship program. Ensure your board clearly defines your facility’s financial hardship parameters.

Creating a Policy

Both charity care and financial hardship requests should go through an application process. Assign a financial counselor, or someone in your facility who handles financial discussions with patients, to guide them through your process and move completed applications along for consideration and approval.

Consider the following when setting up your financial hardship and charity care policies:

  1. Create an application form for the current episode of care.
    1. Require a new application and proof of hardship for future care.
  2. Be precise about the documentation needed to support the request.
    1. Tax returns
    2. W-2s
    3. Bank statements
    4. Proof of unemployment
    5. Alimony, child support, etc.
    6. All sources of income
  3. Reject incomplete applications.
  4. Consider all financial resources available to the patient.
  5. Provide available options to patients upfront.
    1. Payment plans
    2. Low cost health care loans
  6. Establish timeline for review and approval.
  7. Determine notification process of approval or denial – letter or phone call?
  8. Maintain the confidentiality of the data received with the application. Ensure bank account details, social security numbers, etc. are redacted (or partially redacted) to prevent this information from falling into the wrong hands.
  9. Make the process known to your patients who apply and ensure staff consistently follow it.
    1. Educate your staff on policy guidelines, timeliness of the process, etc.
    2. Consistently apply the process to each individual patient to avoid claims of discrimination.

Once your policies are created, consult your attorney to ensure you have appropriately addressed any risks and you are following state laws.

Unforeseen circumstances arise at the worst times. Having sound policies to review financial hardship and charity care requests will help you compassionately work with your patients while protecting your ASC’s bottom line.


[1] US Department of Health & Human Services; Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Resources, A chart with percentages (e.g. 125 percent) of the guidelines

[2] US Department of Health & Human Services; Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Poverty Guidelines


Carol Ciluffo, VP of Revenue Cycle Management

9 Strategies for Upfront ASC Patient Collections

9 Strategies for Upfront ASC Patient Collections

By | ASC Management, Revenue Cycle Management | No Comments

With the continued rise of co-payments, deductions, and co-insurance percentages, patient balances are quickly becoming the largest payer class for ambulatory surgery centers. This increased financial burden for patients places upfront ASC patient collections front and center for every facility. ASCs who adopt a proactive stance toward patient financial responsibility can significantly shorten their payment resolution cycle and increase profitability.

In an ideal situation – submission of a clean claim and prompt processing of same by the third-party payor – payment from the patient’s insurance company is received approximately 15-30 days following the date of service. Upon completion of a properly processed claim, the facility can then generate a statement notifying the patient of any residual financial responsibility.

In many cases, however, the actual “payment in full” status of an account extends well beyond a 45- to 90-day timeframe, particularly when the balance attributed to patient responsibility is significant.

To avoid becoming a long-term creditor, ASCs can positively impact patient balances by employing the following ASC patient collections strategies in the upcoming year.

  1. Consider hiring a Patient Financial Counselor to serve as your ASC’s primary source of patient estimates. With their solid understanding of how insurance works and ability to relay patient responsibility expectations in understandable terms, your ASC’s upfront patient collections and patient satisfaction will trend in a positive direction.
  2. Pre-verify patient insurance benefits specifically noting deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance parameters, as well as the portions patients have already met in each of these areas.
  3. Collect co-pays and deductibles on the date of service, prior to patients undergoing scheduled procedures.
  4. Ask for payment in full.
  5. Don’t fall into the trap of extending payment plan terms that will not pay off patient balances owed in a reasonable amount of time (e.g., $10/month on a $500 bill); otherwise, your ASC can easily become your patients’ loan officer of choice.
  6. Establish hard and fast payment plan guidelines. Ensure staff consistently adhere to them when payment plans are required.
  7. Accept credit card payments and offer alternative payment services (i.e., low interest health care loan programs).
  8. Employ the use of a secure online payment portal.
  9. Accelerate your statement process. Gone are the days of monthly statements – it is simply too expensive to carry an interest free loan for your patients. Shorten your statement cycle to daily, weekly, or every 15 days. Ask for payment in full via the initial statement with one final notice generated 30 days later.

Failure to proactively manage patient balances can result in a higher percentage of accounts receivable attributable to individuals than third-party payors and more patient accounts than you can afford to contact. Ensure your patients are informed about their financial responsibility prior to their procedure and actively work with them to secure payment at the time of service. Upfront ASC patient collections can significantly impact your ASC’s cash flow, especially as you move into the new year.


Carol Ciluffo, VP of Revenue Cycle Management

The Ripple Effect of Reducing Data Entry Errors

The Ripple Effect of Reducing Data Entry Errors

By | ASC Management, Leadership, Revenue Cycle Management | No Comments

When claims are denied due to data entry errors made during patient registration, a ripple effect occurs. Payments are delayed, increasing accounts receivable days. Back office billing personnel must work with front desk staff to obtain corrected data, then resubmit claims, wasting precious time. Staff may blame one another for the errors, damaging employee morale and creating an unpleasant work environment. If denied claims build up, the potential to miss important follow up grows and valuable revenue can go uncollected. Profit margins decrease and ownership distributions suffer.

These were all concerns of mine when I faced my ASC’s data entry error rate of nearly 11% in January. I knew we could do better. We had to. So, I set a goal for our front desk staff: to reduce their data entry error rate to below 1%.

In August, we achieved that goal. Our error rate is currently 0.69%. Staff want to further reduce their errors. Given their determination and effort to achieve what they have, I believe they can accomplish any goal they set for themselves.

Here are some of the steps we took to achieve this impressive turnaround.

Review and Analyze Data Entry Error Log

Accountability is critical when striving to improve. To ensure we maintained momentum, we implemented weekly reviews of our data entry error logs. During these reviews, we evaluated each error to identify the cause. We then discussed what staff needed to do to avoid making similar errors in the future.

For example, we noticed our team made similar insurance errors month after month. Some of the errors related to not clearly identifying payers. Others were steeped in confusion around different plan types offered by a single payer. To reduce these errors, we printed examples of our most common insurance cards, highlighting key details needed by registration staff on the front and back of those cards. Laminating these examples provided staff with “cheat sheets” that helped improve accurate entry of insurance details.

Data Entry Double Check

Each morning, an assigned member of the front desk team printed out the schedule of the previous day’s cases. This individual then double-checked that patient data in our registration system to ensure accuracy. To minimize interruptions and distractions, this review was performed in a private office.

Staff also sought out opportunities to perform data checks during the registration process, particularly concerning error-prone areas. For example, the subscriber date of birth was a troublesome data set. When the patient is not the subscriber, both dates of birth (patient and subscriber) need to be recorded. These repetitive reviews helped our team increase data entry accuracy.

Front Desk Staff Input

To help further secure performance improvement, we frequently asked front desk personnel to share their ideas. After all, working these accounts every day gave them insight into areas leadership did not have. We carved out time during our meetings for staff to share thoughts and let us know where help was needed. We worked on fostering an environment where they felt free to express themselves and ask questions.

These meetings and conversations allowed leadership and staff to develop a closer relationship. I maintain an open-door policy. Staff are comfortable speaking with me outside of meetings which allows us to quickly respond to opportunities to make positive change.

To help our front desk team members succeed, we regularly ask if they have the tools they need to perform their jobs effectively. We are happy to honor requests when we understand how doing so will bring about improvements

Ongoing Front Desk Staff Meetings

Once our front desk staff achieved the data error entry rate goal and demonstrated an ability to maintain it, we didn’t stop our meetings. Rather, we decreased meeting frequency from weekly to monthly. Our monthly meetings provide us with time to review and discuss a summary of the previous month’s data entry error reports. Error trends are now a rarity. Our vigilance ensures new trends aren’t developing and significant time isn’t passing without detection of potential troublesome areas.

Eye on the Prize

Ongoing updates on performance is the primary reason our front desk team members were so successful in lowering their data entry error rate. As we instituted improvements, they anxiously awaited delivery of the next data entry error log. They wanted to gauge their performance and find out if their hard work was achieving the desired results. Disappointment set in when the error rate did not decline or drop as much as they hoped. Fortunately, they used their disappointment as motivation to be proactive and seek additional opportunities for improvement.

I see tremendous value in providing our front desk staff with achievable, measurable goals. This team is now working on a new objective – capturing information about patients’ primary employers. Because this is a new process for them, team members occasionally fail to capture this information. We evaluate staff performance in this area monthly and work to determine reasons why our capture rate is not 100%. That’s our goal, and we know it’s obtainable. Why? Because it is a figure achieved by other Pinnacle III managed facilities, and our staff knows it. Now there’s some friendly competition between facilities.

The Ripple Effect

The positive ripple effect our ASC experienced when our front desk team reduced their data entry error rate to less than 1% was significant.

  • In January, when our error rate was 11%, our average accounts receivable (A/R) days was 28. When we reduced the error rate to 0.69% in August, our average A/R days decreased to 20.
  • Our claims-to-payment days declined – from 34 days in the first quarter of 2017 to 31 days in the third quarter.
  • We experienced a reduction in bad debt – from 4% at the end of 3rd quarter 2016 to 3% during the same timeframe in 2017. While the drop in bad debt is attributable to the improved efforts around upfront collections, it underscores how focusing on troublesome performance indicators can produce meaningful change.

Financial improvements have not been the sole byproduct, however. A transformation has occurred among our front desk personnel.

  • They are more engaged and eager to learn about their performance.
  • They more fully understand how their efforts affect our facility which motivates them to continuously strive for excellence.
  • Their relationship with leadership is truly collaborative.
  • Our governing board, which reviews the financial data, has expressed pride in and appreciation of front desk staff performance.

My concern with the damaging ripple effect that could have occurred when our data entry error rate was 11% subsided as progress was made by our front desk team. Our focus on, and improvement in, this area has made a difference. Our ASC operations were positively transformed in a sustainable way.


Michaela Halcomb, Director of Operations

Patient Billing – Enhancing Patient Satisfaction & Your ASC’s Revenue Cycle Process

Patient Billing – Enhancing Patient Satisfaction & Your ASC’s Revenue Cycle Process

By | ASC Management, Revenue Cycle Management | No Comments

You may think service to your ASC patients ends upon completion of their surgical visit. The reality is, patient satisfaction extends far beyond their date of service. An effective patient billing and collections process can impact patient satisfaction both prior to and after their visit.

How can your surgery center create a positive revenue cycle experience and improve your patient billing process?

1. Proactively address financial concerns prior to each patient’s surgery by obtaining and providing thorough information on their behalf.

  • Contact patients prior to their date of service to verify registration information.
  • Perform insurance eligibility and verification to obtain prior authorization, if required.
  • Create a patient financial responsibility estimate for services to be performed.

2. Avoid potential billing misunderstandings by clearly relaying payment expectations upfront.

  • Discuss patients’ financial estimates with them prior to their scheduled appointment.
  • Secure payment from patients or explore payment plan options.
  • Clarify any remaining billing questions patients might have concerning the billing and collections process.
  • Record details regarding any prior arrangements made with patients in your ASC’s patient accounting system. This will assist with future collections efforts, if needed.

3. Improve upfront collections and/or adherence to agreed-upon terms for financing by reviewing patient estimates with them on the date of service.

  • Review financial responsibility estimates and payment options with patients again, answering any remaining questions they may have.
  • Secure signed financial agreements outlining payment plan details.
  • Collect payments that are due at time of service. Your patients are more likely to pay their bill when you review financial expectations and proactively involve them in the estimation and payment process.

4. Make it easy for your patients to remit payments.

  • Offer an online payment portal accepting ACH debits from bank accounts, a variety of credit cards, and payment plan options.
  • Provide patient friendly statements.

An efficient insurance verification process allows claims to move through the third-party payer system. The result? Timely reimbursement. Conversations with your patients regarding their anticipated financial responsibility ensure they are informed ahead of time. If you’re communicating well, they are able to understand and follow the ASC revenue cycle process.

The goal is a positive patient billing experience from referral all the way through to a zero balance on their account. Patient satisfaction, timely revenue collection, and recommendations of your facility to other patients seeking quality care and a smooth process is a win-win for all!


Carol Ciluffo, VP of Revenue Cycle Management

Patient Registration Issues? Consider a Front Desk Audit

Patient Registration Issues? Consider a Front Desk Audit

By | ASC Management, Revenue Cycle Management | No Comments

Inaccurate patient registration can quickly derail a facility’s revenue cycle management efforts. Delayed reimbursement is costly. If your ambulatory surgery center is experiencing patient registration issues leading to lost or delayed reimbursements, consider conducting a front desk audit. Audit results often help identify training, communication, and process gaps that, once addressed, can get your center back on track.

When conducting your front desk audit, review how facility personnel collect the following items from patients:

  • Are scanned copies of patients’ insurance card(s) obtained and retained for future reference?
  • Does data entry in the patient registration sections of your patient accounting system match the scanned insurance card(s) on file? If not, what variances occurred?
  • Were the proper benefits eligibility and verification checks performed prior to the date of service?
    • Were eligibility and verification activities performed via a phone call or online?
    • If verified by phone, were the following elements – phone number, person spoken to, and reference number – recorded in patients’ accounts?
    • Were eligibility and verification details noted in patients’ accounts?
  • Were co-pay, deductible, and co-insurance details obtained and noted in patients’ accounts during the eligibility and verification process?
    • Were patients’ copays and deductibles collected on or before the date of service?
    • If not, were explanations recorded in patients’ accounts?
  • If required, were prior authorizations obtained before the date of service?
    • If not, was there information listed in patients’ accounts explaining why?

Recording audit results in a simple spreadsheet will provide you with an easy tool to assess your findings and identify trends.

Consider having staff members perform front desk audits on each other. Involving them in the assessment, education, and training aspects of patient registration auditing often yields lasting process improvements. Perhaps your ASC will realize the added benefit of a team inspired to collectively work towards an error free patient registration process.

Share this formula with them: Error free patient registration = clean claims = faster reimbursement = patient satisfaction = happy investors and staff. That’s a win-win for all involved!


Carol Ciluffo, VP of Revenue Cycle Management

Diagnosis Please: It Pays to be Specific!

Diagnosis Please: It Pays to be Specific!

By | ASC Management, Revenue Cycle Management | No Comments

Payors often update their clinical policies in ways that modify how ambulatory surgery centers and physicians must document their interactions with, and sometimes even how they treat, their patients. Staying informed of these updates is crucial to an ASC billing team’s success in obtaining the expected reimbursements. As surgical procedures proliferate, payors are demanding an increased focus on diagnosis specificity. Physicians, surgery schedulers, coders, and billing departments all have a role in expeditiously implementing payor clinical policy changes to ensure reimbursement losses are minimized when policies change.

For example, Aetna’s Clinical Policy Bulletin #0673 changed how ASCs approach meniscectomy cases – procedures billed via CPT codes 29880 and 29881. From Aetna’s perspective, meniscectomies billed without a current injury diagnosis are deemed experimental and investigational (not reimbursable). Therefore, at time of scheduling facility personnel should be able to anticipate whether the meniscectomy case will result in payment or denial based on the patient’s history. Surgeons who add time parameters and other adjectives to the patient’s post-operative notes can clarify the type of tear to ensure medical records and letters of medical necessity do not need to accompany the claim.

The time parameters acute, chronic, acute on chronic, and recurrent are important documentation factors in ICD-10-CM. The difference between billing a specified and an unspecified code may rely on one of these time parameters. Additionally, the distinction in the operative note between an old and a new injury assist coders with proper diagnosis specificity. The indications heading of the operative note is the ideal section to include details regarding injury, trauma, acute, chronic, recurrent, or degenerative conditions.

For example, without knowledge of the patient’s medical history, the postoperative diagnosis “right knee medial meniscus tear” is coded as “M23.231 – Derangement of other medial meniscus due to old tear or injury, right knee.” According to ICD-10-CM coding guidelines, if acute or chronic is not specified, the default diagnosis – chronic – must be assigned. Your surgery center coders should query the physician to obtain greater diagnosis specificity and to gain access to the History & Physical or other parts of the patient’s medical record that clarify the condition.

Ideally, a stand-alone diagnosis reads “medial meniscus tear of right knee, current injury” with a sentence in the indications section of the operative note such as: “The patient is an 18-year-old male who suffered an acute injury to his left knee while playing basketball.” This example yields diagnosis code “S83.231A – Complex tear of medial meniscus, current injury, right knee, initial encounter.”

Other key descriptive words to include about meniscus tears in post-operative documentation are:

  • Lateral, medial, bucket handle
    • Complex, peripheral, bucket handle

Sample key descriptive words to include in post-operative documentation about rotator cuff tears include:

  • Complete, incomplete, traumatic, non-traumatic, capsule

On average, it takes payors two weeks to issue a claim response (payment or non-payment). When the diagnosis specificity in the operative note is lacking and the carrier requests medical records, an additional 30-60 days is tacked onto the carrier’s payment processing time.

To improve claims processing efficiency, maintain open, direct communication between the patient’s record keepers and the ASC billing department. Regularly review medical necessity denials in the context of clinical policies and operative note documentation. Doing so ensures you are well apprised of payor clinical policy updates and minimizes reimbursement losses.


Bethany Bueno, Director of Billing Operations