The Healthcare Financial Management Association held its 2005 Annual National Institute in Las Vegas, its best-attended conference ever, with approximately 2,400 attending and 1,300 others there as exhibitors, according to an early count of the June 26-30 conference by the HFMA.
The five-day event included sessions on the latest trends in accounting and financial reporting and on the hot topic of community benefits. And David Brailer, head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS, presented a case for hospital chief financial officers to make a decision on how to handle their healthcare IT.
Uncertainty continues to reign when it comes to healthcare financial auditing because the guidelines for conducting audits haven't been updated in years, said Robert Valletta, national assurance leader for U.S. healthcare at PricewaterhouseCoopers, in a June 27 session. "Clearly the healthcare audit guide is in need of a lot of revisions," Valletta said.
The same conclusion came out of a session at the previous year's HFMA institute, but a change in the U.S. accounting oversight setup has slowed the updating of healthcare guidelines.
A number of changes have been proposed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' Accounting Standards Executive Committee--the group that used to set guidelines--but those changes would now have to be approved by an independent group, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, he said.
The board is busy with other matters and isn't likely to soon tackle the relatively narrow task of updating healthcare audit guidelines, Valletta said. Among the proposals are changes to the handling of third-party payer settlements, revenue recognition, derivatives and charity care.
Charity care also came up in a session on community benefits led by Patsy Matheny, director of clinical services at VHA and Kellee Fisk, director of planning and marketing at 350-bed Deaconess Billings (Mont.) Clinic. Charity care is one part of the equation in calculating the community benefit provided by a not-for-profit hospital, a task that VHA and the Catholic Health Association is trying to make easier, Matheny said.
Matheny and Fisk outlined an updated approach to calculating and monitoring community benefits, using a set of guidelines and definitions published in a VHA and CHA collaboration called Community Benefit Reporting.
Brailer's speech, while revealing little that was new, acknowledged that CFOs might be among the biggest obstacles to increased IT spending. He said many hospital financial managers are likely to be reluctant to spend much on IT now because the early adopters tend to pay more than those who follow. Taking a wait-and-see approach can be the right decision as long as it's part of a conscious strategy, he said. Regardless of the large upfront costs, Brailer said his office is seeing "significant adoption" among providers.