If you want proof that hospitals are giving more attention to revenue collection, check out the salaries for directors of patient financial services.
Average compensation for these midlevel professionals, who oversee registration, billing and collections, increased almost 17% from 1999 to 2001. That's a bigger jump than any other group of hospital financial professionals, according to the Healthcare Financial Management Association's latest salary survey.
The survey results, which show healthy increases for most financial management professionals, were released in June at the HFMA's annual national institute. Complete survey results are available on its Web site: www.hfma.org.
HFMA President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Clarke says the large increase for patient financial services is driven by demand for more highly skilled personnel to manage increasingly complex revenue cycle functions, such as the chargemaster and managed-care contracts, as well as by increased focus on billing compliance. The patient financial services director, a job that's also been known as business office manager or patient accounts manager, is evolving from a back-office function to a key leadership role requiring strategic thinking and technological knowledge.
"As the healthcare dollar shrinks, hospitals are trying to grab onto as much cash as possible, and that means making sure they're following up on billing, not only with third-party payers but with the self-pay portion," says Bonnie Ripley, principal search consultant at Matthews & Stephens Associates in Rocky Hill, Conn., an executive search firm with a large healthcare division.
Increasingly, patient financial services directors are expected to oversee registration and scheduling, charge-capture, utilization review and medical records, says HFMA technical director Scott Johnston.
Yet often, their skills and education lag behind industry needs. According to the HFMA, less than 20% of patient financial services directors have graduate degrees, a smaller proportion than other financial professionals. Many of them have worked their way up through the ranks without formal training. A lack of higher education has tended to limit their advancement. And despite the hefty raises recently, their salaries are among the lowest of healthcare financial professionals, even though they have been in healthcare the longest-an average of nearly 22 years-and have more personnel under their supervision, a median of 37 workers.
"Traditionally, it's somebody who may have gone to college, or may not have," Johnston says. "Today, they probably need an MBA."
The HFMA-which counts about 3,700 patient financial services professionals among its membership, or about 12% of the total-recently formed a task force of industry experts to define a career track and improve educational offerings in the field. The group, which is expected to complete its work by June 2002, has been charged with incorporating the findings of the hospital industry's patient-friendly billing task force. The panel is expected to produce a preliminary report this summer.
Ripley says those who don't keep their skills honed could fall by the wayside. "It's more and more important for those (patient financial services) individuals to be highly trained and aggressive," says Ripley, a former hospital chief financial officer and controller.