Has your organization completed a system conversion, or are you planning one in the near future? If your patient accounting system is outdated or is in need of an upgrade to stay current with regulatory changes in documentation, technology and reporting functionality, it’s important to take a “big picture” approach to the massive project called system conversion.
Over the past several years EPIC and Cerner have emerged as the leaders in electronic health record systems (EHRs). Moving patient data from a legacy EHR to a new EHR system is a complex process, but with proper planning, selecting a varied internal team and a trusted partner to help manage the data conversion, your organization can transition smoothly.
Here are five tips for successfully managing a system conversion while keeping your revenue cycle management processes operating at peak performance..
Focus on managing change
System conversions can be complex, confusing and costly, and that’s if they’re done right. The truth is that even the simplest conversion can create huge financial burdens if not executed correctly. It’s important to begin with a strong project team in place. The team should include stakeholders from every department, most importantly finance, and include key healthcare leadership to lead the conversion commitment.
A key step in the initial planning process is completing an all encompassing crosswalk to identify all potential departmental impacts of an upcoming conversion. Keep the focus up front on managing the changes to workflows, both upstream and downstream. Petitioning for and receiving initial buy-in from all key stakeholders is vital for success later on.
Accelerate your cash
Many organizations focus solely on the design and setup of their new system and completely ignore cash protection and the expense allocation associated with cash protection. It is vital that providers be proactive and not wait until after the conversion to manage accounts receivable.
Many providers we’ve worked with assume they can handle their receivables with the old system internally right up to the point of conversion. Typically, around 60-days prior to the transition, they realize they’re struggling to maintain a solid performance because they are scrambling to focus on training and other implementation issues.
Likewise on the back end, liquidating cash in Accounts Receivable is paramount. After the conversion, providers must focus on (and allocate the same resources toward) liquidating receivables completely from their legacy systems by any means necessary—collections, write offs, whatever it takes.
It’s also a good idea to conduct an “autopsy” of your legacy system before converting. Very often, unnoticed payment barriers in the old system will transfer to the new one and set you back before you officially make the switch.
Preparing A/R for conversion with the right acceleration/liquidation strategy up front will help you protect your cash flow and avoid financial catastrophe. But developing a sound strategy is complicated, and many providers rely on outside healthcare accounts receivable management firms to assist with their conversion efforts.
Think about timing
While we certainly advocate partnering with a revenue cycle management consultant to help with your processes during and after conversion, there’s one important thing to consider regarding the timing of it all.
Before you set the date for the “go live,” or even during the planning stages of the conversion, check with all of the different departments affected by the changes and confirm that there are no competing initiatives happening during the roll out.
The truth is, even though your legacy system may be “shut down,” it’s not “shut off.”
There will still likely be significant charges continuing to enter into the old system, and ongoing payments made without any interaction between you and your patients. For instance, many organizations sensibly plan their conversion dates for the first of the month. After the switch to the new system, there’s going to be a 15- to 30-day period where those payments will continue unabated. So while you might have wisely hired an outside company to assist with your cash acceleration on the front end, you may now want to avoid paying a vendor during this period when collections are coming into your legacy system automatically.
Conversely, since receivables coming into the new system will take some time to build, it’s likely that our staff will be split between the two systems. The standard time for all of this to unfold and for your entire staff to be up and running on the new project management system is between 45 and 60 days, so it’s wise to direct consulting efforts and dollars to higher value areas during this transition period.
Budget Wisely and Plan For the Unknown
This is where a lot of organizations break down. They plan extensively for other aspects of a system conversion without giving due consideration to establishing a solid, well-conceived budget for the entire process. It’s not unlike budgeting for a vacation. You plan to spend a certain amount of money for the essentials like hotel, food and transportation, but it always seems like something comes up that ends up costing more than originally forecasted.
Some organizations spend a lot of money on the contractual components of the system conversion only to find they had limited resources to pay for the transition itself. It’s vital to make this part of your initial change management strategy so you don’t get stuck down the road.
If you choose to invest in an outside partner, don’t forget that it’s not just an expense play. Rather an outside partner should result in more revenue for your organization than if left to internal resources.
Bring in the right partner
For providers of all sizes, converting the patient accounting system and successfully managing receivables during financial management system consolidation is among the most challenging and complex events in revenue cycle operations. It’s no wonder so many leading organizations turn to outside resources for help.
In addition to finding the right partner to help with your system conversion outside your organization, assembling a team of “super users” within your organization is important to ensure that issues are identified and resolved as your roll out begins.
The key is finding qualified revenue cycle management experts with a proven track record of success and a reputation for integrity. We recommend you make this search part of your initial planning process, so you have the right partner with the appropriate experience and expertise all set and ready to assist you as you protect your cash through this complicated transition.
Do your research to find a partner who has successfully implemented system conversions and has a proven track record. Factor in cost and timelines that are mutually beneficial and a good fit with both of your organizations. Align your goals and set clear expectations with potential partners so you can be confident and trust them with your A/R and ultimately your patients.
The Bottom Line
No matter if your organization in the midst of a system conversion currently, in the initial planning stages, or recently completed a conversion, the five tips above provide a solid strategy to manage the change and plan ahead. Increasing efficiency in the revenue cycle process while protecting patient data and creating a positive patient experience are the most important goals of a system conversion.