Need of the hour – redefining the patient financial journey

Need of the hour – redefining the patient financial journey

By Carolyn Millward, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC)

The key priorities of finance in health care are evolving rapidly as the industry moves towards value-based care, process automation, and financial sustainability. Therefore, the role of the chief financial officer (CFO) is also evolving to meet the needs of the challenging health care landscape. Today this leadership role requires skills that transcend the traditional scope of finance. Today’s health care CFOs  are trusted business partners and strategic thought partners to the CEO and leadership team, with a  strong understanding of the macro and micro challenges facing health care today, as well as the clinical and operational challenges facing their organization. The CFO today needs a deep people focus, which drives an inclusive culture, innovation and clear communication. Automation of processes, accessibility to data and real-time reporting are increasingly important for a CFO.

In my 20-year career in health care finance, I have come across many situations where my team and I are questioned about finance involvement in processes and decisions made at operational level. So why is it important to involve finance, and what role do they play?

Well, finance needs to be “unboxed”. Finance must educate the organization on how and why it can be a trusted business partner. As result of its access to large sets of data including financial, clinical and operational, as well as high analytical skills, the finance team is uniquely placed to be able to determine relationships and draw conclusions from the data, which help to inform improved decision-making, mitigate risk and improve efficiencies.

Below we look at the impact of the changing role of finance.

Streamlining payment processes 

Patient-centered care means we need to take into consideration that we have a more informed patient population with high expectations, looking for easy access andinstant service with remote options. A patient’s financial journey can be the source of additional stress and anxiety for patients already worried about their health. Creating a patient financial journey, which provides all the necessary information prior to arriving at the facility, in addition to ease of access and efficient payment options, is a priority for any finance department.

Making sure we have a robust process, which provides patients with upfront information on their insurance coverage, their financial responsibility for their care, cost estimation for out-of-pocket expenses with easy payment options, is essential for an enhanced patient experience. This information needs to be delivered with sensitivity and care, by well-trained and experienced staff.

At SSMC in partnership with Mayo Clinic, to support patients that do not have the financial means to cover essential and emergent treatment, we have successfully partnered with and  signed MOUs with charity organizations.

Investing in innovation and people 

Finance needs to work closely with the organization to design the budget to support the needs of the patient at every level, which results in being able to invest in the latest technology, equipment and leading medical talent.

Effective financial planning to achieve financial health of the organization allows us to invest in innovation to support improved processes and efficiencies. Excellence and best practice in finance should be supported through implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) and other software solutions that facilitate financial planning, analysis and reporting leading to improved accuracy and speed of decision making.

Sustainability and staff resilience 

Sustainable financial performance allows the organization to reinvest in equipment, infrastructure and people. At SSMC, our focus on the value equation will lead to reduction of costs over time to achieve sustainability. When superior clinical outcomes, enhanced patient safety and exceptional patient experience combine, the cost of care over time decreases due to reduced utilization, reduced complication rates and improved operational efficiencies. The increased trust resulting from this value equation drives loyalty and increased demand.

A culture of learning and growth is an important aspect for organizations to ensure that their staff are equipped with the latest methods, knowledge and best practice. Setting aside a dedicated learning and development budget for continuing medical education (CME) credits and investing in staff well-being and engagement, create a positive work environment which contributes to greater patient experience and reduced cost of attrition

We must take care of our staff so that they can take care of our patients, which contributes to our primary goal to put the needs of the patient first. Educating the entire organization on business acumen, revenue cycle management (RCM), supply chain and more, will help elevate the overall performance and outcomes.

In conclusion, I would like to highlight that at SSMC, we are committed to becoming a regional destination medical center for complex care, with education and research as propellers of practice. Our goal is to provide a Category of One service, which can only be done through the small consistent efforts taken every day. As the CFO, my task is to be a strategic partner and work with the rest of the organization to deliver on the strategy of bringing a more comprehensive form of patient care to the UAE in a fiscally responsible way.