Healthcare is a people-centric industry. Clinically, frontline workers provide care to patients, support staff guide patients through their time in the hospital and even financial counselors work with patients to help them along the billing process.
While it’s important to support staff involved in patient care, it’s equally important to maintain the health and wellbeing of non-patient facing staff, including those involved in an organization’s audit response process. Audit response may not have direct patient impact, but it still involves people.
As technology advances and the audit response process becomes increasingly automated and digital, we can’t forget there are real people on either side of the screen. The workplace must elevate empathy and humanity on behalf of both auditors and audit response teams.
Navigating a post-pandemic workplace
The global COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the healthcare system. Most of the attention at this time was placed on frontline workers treating Covid patients – and rightfully so. Mental health took such a blow that in February 2022, Congress passed the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act which provided resources and funding related to mental health and resiliency for clinical teams.
During this time, other parts of the healthcare system didn’t get as much direct attention and notoriety, but they still felt extreme amounts of pressure. Audit and denials management teams had to deal with rapid changes in reimbursement for Covid cases, process Covid-related denials and perform their regular duties while preparing for potentially huge audit exposure as a result of uncertain coding requirements during the pandemic.
Even as pandemic restrictions eased in early 2022, the healthcare industry finds itself in the midst of an employment shortage. Already burnt out teams have to find ways to do more with less while managers scramble to retain valuable staff.
Suffice to say, none of this stress lives in a vacuum. Employees are people first and foremost, and their stress and anxieties don’t disappear when they enter or leave the office.
Understanding workplace stress
Over the last century, and especially over the last decade, workplace stress has become so commonplace in America, we don’t tend to register it as a crisis. But the negative effects of job stress are so severe that the World Health Organization has declared occupational stress to be a World Wide Epidemic.
Workplace stress has direct consequences for mental health, physical health and job performance. The American Psychological Association reported that 71% of Americans typically feel stressed out during the workday. Factors contributing to stress include heavy workloads, low salaries, lack of opportunity for growth, lack of input in decision making and interpersonal problems with coworkers and management.
Some stress in the workplace is inevitable, especially when it comes to deadline pressure associated with audit response. But your audit team should not feel stress as a primary emotion on a regular basis. It’s critical that employers take the time to establish systems at work that help manage stress and encourage a thriving workplace culture.
Supporting your audit response team’s mental health
The best offense is a good defense. Stress management for employees should focus on prevention as the most effective approach to combating the overwhelmed. Experiment with the strategies below and take note of what makes your audit and denials management team feel most supported and relaxed at work.
1. Everything starts with empathetic leadership
As with many organizations, change starts from the top down. Management that does not subscribe to an empathic model of leadership will only exacerbate their team’s stress.
Managers should be provided with tools and resources to incorporate empathy into their everyday communication. They should practice noticing and responding appropriately to an individual’s body language, anxiety, disappointment and fatigue. Employees should know their concerns are being heard and addressed and that their managers are there to support them.
Remember, empathetic leadership is not coddling or hand holding – it’s choosing to understand where others are coming from and why someone’s perspective is the way it is.
2. Enhance employer-employee communication
Uncertainty in what is expected of an individual is one of the biggest sources of job stress. Management should collect verbal confirmation that all audit response team members clearly understand what is expected of them on a regular basis.
Once employees know what is expected of them, they should also be equipped with the necessary skills, training and resources to meet these expectations. Along the way, management should check in to communicate whether employees are meeting these expectations.
3. Provide behavioral health services in employee insurance plans
To truly “walk the walk,” your organization should provide options for mental health counseling services. The opportunity and process to receive these services should be clearly communicated to employees.
Organizations can also go a step further and provide onsite or distance counseling through a third party service that employees can access at any time during regular work hours.
4. Establish different workspaces within the office
Not everyone works well at a desk. Some people are most productive on a couch, at a larger table or outside. Invest in furniture for the office and invite employees to work wherever feels best for them.
Not every space should be a workspace, either. Provide the same variety in break spaces and strongly encourage taking time away from the work environment throughout the day.
5. Recognize your employees
Employees should understand the value they contribute to the workplace. While people bang pots and pans and set up yard signs for frontline workers, audit response teams should feel the same sense of accomplishment for their behind the scenes work.
Some people love to be praised in front of a crowd while others prefer a small gift delivered in person or handwritten note left on their desk. Whatever their preference, make sure they know how their work helps the organization meet its goals.
6. Provide tools and resources
Audit response teams cannot function on encouragement and workplace wellness alone. Sometimes, the best way to support a team is also the most practical way: by providing the best possible tools to optimize their time and skillset.
While it can seem counterintuitive to introduce technology as a way to elevate humanity in the workplace, good software does just that. Maximizing an employee’s efficiency and optimizing their workday can be the perfect way to increase job satisfaction and relieve burnout.
There are several software solutions available on the market, but the best ones should provide an all-in-one method of receiving ADRs, managing the team’s response through smart notifications and workflow automation and even reporting on success rates after the response has been submitted.
Note: Before introducing new tools, recall that lack of say in decision making is a common factor contributing to workplace stress. New technology can change the entire trajectory of a person’s workday, and too often managers and directors make decisions around tools that directly impact staff without getting their input. When evaluating software solutions, end users should be involved in the process.
Technology-based solutions to alleviate stress
Between work stress and personal stress, audit response teams have been through the wringer over the last two years. It’s time to prioritize empathy in the workplace and put humanity back in the audit response process. The only question that remains: Is your management team ready to rise to the challenge?
Bluemark’s sophisticated cloud-based audit and compliance technology solution streamlines the audit response process, providing technology to efficiently and effectively manage all types of audits—and protect reimbursement.
Click here to learn more about Bluemark’s lineup of payer audit management software for healthcare-based organizations of all sizes.