Staffing during the pandemic has been a key concern, but post-lockdown staffing has its own challenges as well.

Post-lockdown, surgery centers are seeing a higher case volume and a huge backlog of cases. Some staff members are taking a vacation because it is summer and that also poses its own staffing challenge. ASCs find themselves doing more surgery from the backlog with fewer staff members.

According to a study by Johns Hopkins researchers, it may take between seven to 16 months for surgeons to complete the backlog of elective orthopedic surgeries that have been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 safety protocols are also creating some operational changes which may contribute more to an increasing backlog. As non-emergency surgeries slowly start to pick up, it won’t be as simple as flipping a switch to operate surgical facilities to what they were pre-pandemic.

For ASCs, particularly, top staffing challenges include:

  • Bringing staff back from furlough

This means determining who to bring back and who is more likely to return to work. Some staff may want to stay on reduced hours to spend more time with their children; others don’t feel safe returning to work due to high risks of contracting the virus. Some even opt to resign to minimize risk to their family.

  • Staff exposure to COVID-19 infection

If one staff member gets exposed to coronavirus and infects others and they all must self-isolate, the resulting staffing shortages could force the practice to revert to urgent procedures only. If some staff are required to self-quarantine, it needs the rest of the team or additional staff to step up to take on additional cases.

  • Recruitment challenges

Recruiting talent during this period may prove difficult and come at a higher cost than budgeted. Due to the increased demand for qualified talent, salaries are likely to be appreciably higher than those prior to the pandemic. Finding talented staff members willing and able to work flexible hours during ramp-up periods may also be more difficult than expected.

ASCs need to become creative with staffing during this period. Given the volatile nature of the pandemic, staffing could end up being a challenge day to day. The disruptions due to Covid-19 provide an opportunity to rethink many aspects of a surgical facility’s operations.

To avoid a haphazard ramp-up and address the large surgical backlog, it is important to adopt strategies that are safe, ethically sound, and operationally efficient. Here are some key points and suggestions to consider:

  • Giving more hours to per diem staff who are requesting more due to the lack of work during the pandemic.
  • Consider the possibility of instituting extended hours of operation (evenings and weekends). Extending existing block schedules for example from eight to ten hours and opening up all hours on the weekend when ORs are typically not running elective cases.
  • Even with the increased case volumes, some facilities choose to operate at 90 percent volume to strategically prepare for possible exposure. This way, even if a staff member self-quarantines because of a known exposure, the facility won’t be short-staffed.
  • Allot more space for clinical use during caseload ramp-up periods to capture the volume of cases available to your center.
  • Build larger patient care areas to respond to new safety needs by outsourcing business office functions such as revenue cycle management or patient billing services.
  • Outsourcing revenue cycle management allows you to access experienced staff for your patient billing needs. Consider utilizing remote Patient Financial Advocates and remote Call Center to focus on patient payments while your facility focuses on scheduling cases.
  • Utilize more of available patient billing solutions and technologies. This will enable processes to be streamlined and reduce the amount of direct patient contacts (paperless registration processes, text billing, online patient portals, integrated scheduling, and other improved billing procedures.)

It’s important that surgery centers not just go back to normal, but also to try to reinvent their facility to be better than they were prior to COVID-19.

How Mnet Can Help

Mnet works with the medical community as they strive to stabilize the healthcare system while keeping the lines of communication open with the patients. Mnet fully understands the breadth of the situation facing the surgical industry and stands ready to help.

Having a partner focus on patient payments can free up limited staff to focus on providing quality care and building case volume.

Mnet is ready to field inbound calls from patients pertaining to payment or process, long-term or temporarily, using remote call center technology and Patient Financial Advocates. Mnet’s remote assistance is designed to offer a seamless transition for ASC’s with either limited commitment or long-term commitment if that is more advantageous. The main goal of Mnet is to help loyal clients preserve the integrity of the industry during this extremely challenging time.

About Mnet Health

Mnet Health is the premier revenue cycle management and technology provider in the surgical industry. We provide custom patient-pay solutions to surgical hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers. As of 2020, Mnet Health partners with over 700 surgical facilities nationwide and is the preferred vendor of both United Surgical Partners International (USPI) and Surgical Care Affiliates (SCA) – both directly with and in support of centralized billing offices. Mnet’s custom brand, PaySUITE, is a white-labeled payment technology platform that helps surgical facilities and their providers grow their business by helping patients pay.

We believe every patient deserves a helpful, transparent, easy to navigate financial experience in healthcare.

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