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Thrive in the Face of Healthcare Labor Shortages with AP Automation

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Key takeaways:
  • Labor shortages in healthcare extend beyond the front lines of patient care, affecting back-office functions such as accounts payable (AP) as well.
  • Fueled by technologies that enable greater efficiencies such as touchless invoice and payment processing, AP automation can be a gamechanger for healthcare organizations tapped for finance professionals.
  • Greater workforce capacity, operational performance and employee engagement can all be gained with AP automation.

As a workforce shortage continues to ravage the U.S. healthcare industry, it’s not just nurses and clinical staff that healthcare organizations are struggling to hire – it’s also finance department staff, including accounts payable (AP) professionals. In fact, a recent survey of more than 400 healthcare finance leaders revealed that one in four leaders needs to hire more than 20 employees to fully staff their finance department.

These back-office staffing challenges can trickle down to the front lines of care delivery, spelling trouble for healthcare organizations along the way, including:

  • Increased labor costs to reach proper finance professional staffing levels.
  • Burnout, disengagement and lack of job satisfaction among existing staff due to time-consuming, tedious work and administrative burdens.
  • Diminished staff productivity resulting in slower invoice and payment processing, more errors and missed early payment discounts.
  • Strained relationships with suppliers leading to delays in receiving critical medical supplies.
  • Reduced patient satisfaction.

AP automation can help alleviate the pressure on back-office finance staff, freeing them up for more meaningful, value-added work while increasing efficiencies and reducing overall operating costs.

Here are three ways AP automation can help optimize a hospital’s or health system’s AP labor force.

Reduce Workload and Increase Staff Capacity

Despite the widespread availability of technology-driven AP systems, hospitals and health systems today continue to rely on manual, paper-based processes that create costly inefficiencies. A large volume of paper invoices and checks can be overwhelming for a provider’s AP department, not to mention it can result in wasted time and revenue that could be better deployed to improve other areas of the organization.

Time and money spent on manual, repetitive tasks is drastically cut when AP automation is utilized, providing staff more bandwidth to focus on strategic activities (e.g., building stronger supplier relationships, sourcing new prompt-pay discounts and other financial incentives from suppliers and rebates from credit card processors) that contribute to the overall mission and financial health of the organization.

Improve Operational Performance

AP automation enables touchless processing of supplier invoices and payments, which cuts down on opportunities for human error that can lead to price discrepancies and match exceptions between a provider’s purchase order and a supplier’s invoice, as well as opportunities for check fraud and theft. These issues can bog down the procure-to-pay (P2P) process and put patient care at risk when clinicians can’t access the supplies they need when they need them.

Furthermore, when AP staff don’t have to spend countless hours manually handling invoices and checks, they can turn their attention to things like finding extra working capital that may be hiding in those paper-based processes. Automation can help healthcare organizations optimize their payment cycles, which could generate working capital that could be used to offset Medicare reimbursement cuts and rising inflation, invest in future growth opportunities or be applied to overall margin improvement efforts.

Create Better Employee Experiences

In our post-COVID-19 world, employee engagement is more important than ever before. Evidence shows engaged employees perform better, experience less burnout and stay in organizations longer. Furthermore, two of the three most important levers finance leaders have at their disposal to boost engagement are (1) help employees connect what they do to what they care about and (2) make the work itself less stressful and more enjoyable – AP automation can support both.

By automating administrative accounting tasks, employees are able to refocus their efforts on activities that contribute to the delivery of patient care and drive business forward in a more rewarding way. Automation also affords employees the flexibility of a remote working environment, which can support a healthy work-life balance. Going into an office is no longer necessary as invoices don’t need to be printed; managers chased for approvals and queries; and checks handwritten, mailed or received. With automation, AP teams gain 24/7 access and 100 percent control and visibility over the P2P process anytime, anywhere.

Why Consider AP Automation Now

AP automation can be a powerful tool for hospitals and health systems grappling with workforce issues in their finance department, acting as a labor extender that enables AP teams to do more with less by maximizing their resources and productivity.

As we continue to manage through the after-effects of the pandemic and forge ahead into the new normal, AP automation is one solution that shouldn’t be overlooked by finance leaders striving to increase efficiencies, reduce operating costs, improve revenues and engage their workforce.

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