I always enjoy attending the HFMA Annual Conference (Formerly known as ANI) which brings together healthcare CFOs and others in the healthcare financial management community. Or as someone once told me, this use to be a conference of CPAs. In spite of its roots, there was an interesting mix of people at HFMA including health IT professionals, HIM professionals, and of course CFOs at the conference.
In one of my interviews at the conference, I sat down with Dan Berger, Director of Healthcare at AxiaMed. We had a wide-ranging conversation about healthcare payments and payment processing, but he struck me pretty hard when he talked about what would happen if a hospital or health systems payment processing went down. We talk a lot about EHR downtime and encourage healthcare organizations to have downtime procedures, but we don’t talk about payment downtime.
In some ways, this may be an appropriate response to downtime. If the EHR is down, that could impact patient care and literally patients lives. So, EHR downtime should be important. However, from a financial perspective payment processing downtime is a really big deal for healthcare organizations as well. The problem is that no patient will complain if you can’t collect their payment. The patients won’t go to the news with stories of payment processing issues. However, your business office will definitely feel it if the cash stops flowing.
This example is a simple reminder of how healthcare is a business. You see that in full view when you’re at a conference like HFMA’s annual conference. In some ways that’s a good thing since healthcare organizations have to be financially sound if they want to fulfill their missions. However, sometimes that can be taken too far as some people treat patients as a number on a spreadsheet.
I have seen some hope here at the conference. There are quite a few companies working hard to personalize the payment experience, to make pricing and payment information available to patients in ways it hasn’t been available before, and efforts to improve things like legible bills. These are small things, but they make a big difference to a patient.
I was also impressed with a number of companies that were using financial data to understand the patients better and when combined with other data can really personalize the care a patient is provided. A great example of this is Clarify Health Solutions which is making patient financial data useful and optimizing the patient journey. This is challenging stuff, but the data is getting there and companies are starting to see success and build up data that can be used by any healthcare organization.
What’s become more and more apparent to me is how challenging all of these healthcare problems are and how many people have to be influenced for change to happen. The wide variety of stakeholders that can hijack a great project is amazing. Dan Berger from AxiaMed who I mention at the start of this article commented on how payment processing used to be largely owned by the business office. He went on to share that now he’s seeing the CISO get involved and even the CIO. In many cases the CISO has veto power over vendors that don’t meet a healthcare organization’s security needs. Given all the security issues healthcare faces that’s generally a good thing. However, these types of group decision making do make the process of adding new innovations to your organization more complicated.