The COVID-19 pandemic is an extreme example of how the healthcare system can be quickly overwhelmed by the immediate surge of new patients. These last few years have proved how drastically things can change overnight, leaving providers with no choice but to somehow adapt - even in the most extenuating circumstances. Skilled nursing and other long-term care providers have become familiar with the rollercoaster of highs and lows as census climbs up only to come racing back down. Occupancy rates overall were on the decline well before the pandemic, and after dropping to record lows in 2020, many facilities are finally heading in a more positive direction.
Although there are high hopes this will be the year the tables finally turn (or return to pre-pandemic levels), facilities should remain cautious and strategic in their decision-making. Now is not the time to rely on census alone to keep margins profitable. Until more stability is achieved, providers need alternative sources of revenue to carry them through the lows, and flexible solutions that will allow them to better serve an influx of patients when the need arises again.
So how can your long-term-post-acute-care organization build an infrastructure that responds to your current needs?
Begin with a financial assessment
The goal of scalability is to grow your operation without adding incremental costs. But before you can insightfully strategize new ways to boost revenue, you should examine your current expenses and tighten up any loose ends. Since most budgeting decisions are based on census and/or occupancy, it is important to first have a good read on these figures. When budgeting for expenses such as staffing, supplies, equipment, and housekeeping, reliance on numbers that are inaccurate can easily result in overspending or underspending – both of which carry their own set of problems. Verify that these numbers are in line, and that your money is being allocated wisely.
When budgeting for staffing, be sure to take other factors such as the acuity of your patients into consideration, as well as the new staffing level mandates. You will also want to review contracts and look for opportunities to reduce costs, even if it means switching vendors. Keep close tabs on your inventory and use equipment and supplies on hand first. If shopping for new equipment, always conduct a cost analysis to determine whether it would be more beneficial to rent or purchase, making sure to account for both material cost and life-cycle costs.
2. Leverage your existing technology
Technology plays an integral role in allowing providers to increase revenue without increasing staffing or infrastructure costs. There is never a shortage of new applications or software that promise resolution to common industry headaches. These are certainly worth exploring, but realistically many new tools come with a hefty price tag that is simply not feasible for facilities that are already struggling financially. The real challenge becomes understanding how to optimize the tools already at your disposal. An Electronic Health Records (EHR) system, for example, can help streamline operations, increase reimbursements, and reduce the risk of errors if it is configured properly. Built-in workflows and processes can be integrated, customized, and even automated, all of which allows your staff to keep patient care as their primary focus.
Another tool that has increased in popularity is telehealth, and it is easy to understand why. Patients who prefer to stay in the comfort of their own home can receive virtual care, usually much quicker than they would with an office visit. When used selectively for conditions that can be easily identified and treated over video, providers can reduce their operational costs, yet still produce revenue for the consult. It is also worth noting, given ongoing staffing challenges, that telehealth allows providers to pull from a wider pool of clinicians once geography is no longer a factor.
3. Remain open to change
At the rate that healthcare is evolving, decisions should no longer be based on immediate needs that can be easily anticipated. We must look far beyond the near future and try to envision how care will be delivered in 5, 10, 15 and even 20 years from now. What do the buildings look like? How does the patient and caregiver interact? What role does technology play? What affect will new regulations have?
While we certainly can’t predict the future, there are already some clues as to where some of these elements are headed. Patient-centered care is becoming the priority, reimbursement factors are more stringent, and private rooms are higher in demand. Providers who maintain a philosophy of flexibility that can adapt floor design, workflows and protocols to meet changing demands will be in a better position to scale more efficiently when the time comes.
4. Divide the workload with a reputable third party
Sometimes all you need is an extra hand or another pair of eyes to get you through difficult times. Aligning your organization with an experienced third party that is trained to identify revenue opportunities and correct shortfalls can help reduce internal pressures and provide much-needed objectivity.
Enhance Outcomes with Richter
Richter is a trusted industry expert that provides comprehensive solutions including full financial assessments, budgeting, EHR implementation and optimization, ad hoc reporting, reimbursement consulting and even interim management support. When considering an expansion, acquisition, closing or another critical operations decision, our team can weigh in on your options and support you through the entire transition process. To learn more about our flexible solutions, contact us here or call us at 866.806.0799.