The healthcare industry is vast and employs people across a broad array of positions. So if you thought it was nothing but doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, you’d be amazed at the number of behind-the-scenes roles that need to be filled by qualified professionals.
Accounting is a great example of this; without being able to balance the books, no healthcare organization can hope to stay solvent. Let’s look at just a few examples of how accountants can work their magic in a healthcare management context.
Wrangling care costs
One of the things students learn during healthcare accounting training is how to ensure that treatments are available to patients at appropriate price points without compromising on the quality of the care they receive.
This is a tough balancing act since the stakes are higher than in other industries. Rather than risking customer dissatisfaction, in healthcare, you are potentially putting lives on the line.
In order to achieve this, accountants need to work alongside physicians and come to an arrangement that is both financially justifiable as well as ethically sound.
Handling medical billing
The billing process in healthcare is unique because care costs need to be interpreted and accurately reported according to the decisions made by doctors.
This is achieved through the discipline of medical coding, which can be a distinct role in its own right or could be one of the responsibilities that an accountant will be expected to encompass.
Medical coding makes use of a standard set of codes that correlate with different types of treatment.
These codes allow a patient’s insurance provider to be charged for the correct amount, removing some of the ambiguity and complexity that could come with full-blown medical documentation while also preserving a degree of privacy.
Even if an accountant is not directly responsible for medical coding themselves, they may need to oversee this and check for inaccuracies.
Aside from the billing aspect of accounting in healthcare, professionals in this sphere will also need to take charge of the wider-ranging need to track insurance claims through to completion. This includes stepping in should a claim be denied by an insurer.
This can come about for all sorts of reasons, but obviously, it might mean that a healthcare business is left out of pocket after treatment has been provided, which of course has a knock-on effect.
As in all organizations, accountants keep the cash flowing and thus guarantee the smooth running of the healthcare employer they work for.
The finance department is once more called upon to provide the information and advice needed to allow for research in healthcare businesses.
This research may be specifically medical in nature, but that doesn’t mean necessarily seeking out new cures for ailments; that tends to be the preserve of the pharmaceutical industry.
Instead, research by healthcare providers will look into the types of diseases and their treatments, and determine whether or not specializing in them is cost-effective.
Another aspect of research that makes a difference is the way it can essentially be used as a preventative measure against future costs.
If cheaper solutions to common medical issues can be uncovered, then this will allow providers to treat more patients in an affordable, consistent way. This can bolster profits and improve outcomes, as well as minimize costs. Thus accounting has both short and long-term advantages.
Overseeing staffing requirements
Healthcare providers need many employees with different skill sets, roles, and responsibilities. From highly trained medical specialists to low-skill workers, a huge breadth of abilities and salaries have to be weighed and factored into the budgeting process.
Accounting is essential in terms of getting this right. For example, when recruiting new team members for unique roles, finance workers need to ensure that the pay packages on offer are both justifiable as well as competitive, in order to attract and retain the right talent.
The same applies in every industry, of course, but healthcare is certainly one of the more diverse sectors in this regard, and so accountants must be aware of this and adjust their priorities accordingly.
Securing customer satisfaction
Following on from considering staffing requirements and costs, the accounts team in a healthcare facility are also indirectly responsible for the level of customer satisfaction that is achievable.
Patients are more content with the level of service they receive if they get lots of contact time with medical practitioners. Likewise, they value the ability to arrange appointments and book in treatments quickly and conveniently, rather than having to be on long waiting lists.
Providers need the resources available to them in order to meet customer expectations, and so satisfaction is tied into how well the accounting is balanced.
Compliance is an important matter for accountants everywhere, and elements like keeping up with taxes and dealing with employee pay are still present and correct in healthcare management.
However, there are also some challenges that are unique to this industry. For example, law changes occur more frequently in healthcare than elsewhere, which means that businesses need to be attuned to these changes as well as be agile enough to adapt so that they can comply with whatever new obligations they face.
Even if compliance is led by other team members, all of this will ultimately flow through the finance department, so accountants must be able to adapt rather than being inflexible in their thinking or unable to expand their skill set.
Planning for the future
Accountants obviously have responsibilities that revolve around the day-to-day operations of healthcare facilities. They must also be involved in the planning process when the future trajectory of the organization is being plotted out.
If there are particular goals to hit, guidelines to encompass, or industry trends to accommodate, accountants will be needed to ensure that all of these are achievable in a way that tallies on a financial level.
Likewise, an accountant is instrumental in any major decision-making which goes on within a healthcare provider. If a challenge arises, an accountant can provide guidance and give decision-makers the detail they need to choose wisely, rather than relying on guesswork.
Without well-managed finances, any business can fail. So while healthcare may provide more stability and reliability than some industries, there is still no room for imperfect accounting.
For a provider to thrive, they need to have suitable resources, cash flow, and profitability. Without one or all of these, they are destined to fail.
This is arguably where billing emerges as the most important part of an accountant’s role in healthcare. Unless medical bills are paid promptly and consistently, a company could be scuppered in spite of its best efforts.
Analyzing aspects like preferred payment methods, average payment times, and approaches to reminding customers over unpaid bills must be done to guarantee longevity.
We have touched on a few of the ways that accounting is used in healthcare management, but there are many more areas in which balancing the books can make a big difference.
If you have a choice of industry in which to apply your accounting expertise, and you want to work in a business that helps people unambiguously, then healthcare should be high on your list.