Natural disasters can cause serious problems for medical facilities. When medical providers are inundated with victims or face other outages that impede proper functioning, medical claims are the last things on the mind. Unfortunately, this can cause major disruptions to patient care and revenue streams down the line. However, natural disasters are a part of our world, so it’s wise to have a contingency plan in place just in case. Thankfully, there are steps healthcare facilities can take ahead of time to prepare themselves in the case of the unexpected, preventing the loss of revenue for their hard work.
Let’s take a look at some of the natural disasters that have occurred, the problems they caused for healthcare practice billing, and the lessons we have learned from them.
Natural Disasters that Affected Medical Billing & What We Learned
Several hospitals closed after they were damaged by the storm surge. Officials investigated Memorial Medical after 45 patients died. After floodwaters disrupted power from generators, seventh-floor patients were unable to use ventilators. Staff carried as many patients as they could down several flights of stairs and saved lives.
However, patients’ families later accused the hospital of not doing enough to help patients with Do Not Resuscitate orders. Resulting lawsuits questioned how much a provider can be held responsible for in the event of a natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina led many medical care providers to begin employing Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems that can help prepare for cost-effective, suitable care during a disaster that damages buildings and disrupts power. Record maintenance is also necessary for medical claims processing after the disaster is over.
Hurricane Sandy tested Health Information Technology (HIT) effectiveness in late 2012. Planning officials advised hospitals to back up data before the storm so it would be up-to-date and available in case of disaster.
As with Katrina, record rooms and electrical/communication rooms were completely submerged. Luckily, innovative technology helped providers function despite the disaster. Those facilities with an EHR and staff familiar with the tool were able to archive information and access it quicker as they moved to a temporary location. Doctors could continue giving care and access records through a secure online connection.
Throughout the disaster, the EHR system provided and captured the data necessary to successfully treat patients and it created and submitted claims so the hurricane did not disrupt revenue.
In the event of a massive wildfires like those that ravaged California in the summer of 2020 and are becoming increasingly common in the western US, patients and providers who evacuated could return to ash.
With such chaos in evacuation, important records and information would surely be lost if they were not stored with care. Electronic record keeping with an EHR or a claims clearinghouse able to safeguard these records, just like with the flooding after a major hurricane. Like with the doctors who were able to maintain treatment after Hurricane sandy, emergency workers fighting fires and assisting the public who battled smoke inhalation were able to stay healthy and seek treatment. The same goes for patients who were displaced, sometimes hundreds of miles, by the fires and were able to resume their regular treatments thanks to the fact that their data was stored and easily and safely shared.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in America was a disaster out health system had not seen decades. Though outbreaks of diseases like Zika, Swine Flu, and Ebola made headlines, none compared the scale, severity, or lasting impact of COVID 19. The COVID pandemic spurred a shift in healthcare. Testing and PPE became a matter of public safety. Efforts to minimize contact led to more and more avoidance of hospital treatment. Ever-changing government assistance and fiscal relief and new bill codes were all challenges billing employees needed to be aware of.
For those with a claims clearinghouse, however, a huge burden was lifted. They were able to keep steady revenue streams and redirect their focus to patient care by letting the electronic service handle the chaotic world of billing during a pandemic.
How to Prepare for a Natural Disaster
In the second date of the 21st Century, we are not strangers to the many forms natural disasters can take. Whether they come as raging wildfires, record hurricane seasons, a local tornado, or even a global pandemic, you need to make sure you are prepared. Here are some steps to take before disaster strikes.
Invest in an EHR
The National Center for Biotechnology studied the impact of EHR access during a disaster and found that an EHR system enables providers to be in a better position during a disaster than those who depend on paper records. EHRs provide clinical and financial benefits during everyday care and can be especially helpful during an emergency.
When facilities use EHRs daily, the habits they create carry over during times of disaster. The National Planning Frameworks outlines the five areas in which communities should prepare for disaster response:
An EHR system enables all facility personnel to work together to prepare, coordinate care, and respond. Technology helps prevent duplicate treatments, alert providers to possible medication interactions, and supply information that leads to a quick and accurate diagnosis. These factors make treatment more cost-effective and reduce medical claims that may later be denied.
Secure Your Data
You Can’t provide proper medical care without access to your information. Store patient records and data in a secure offsite location and make sure it is regularly backed up. If you work with a medical billing clearinghouse, choose one that makes it easy to transfer data to their location remotely.
If you’re facing danger from bad weather, unplug electronics and diagnostic equipment in case of a power surge. Make a detailed plan that details who will handle each section of your facility, and includes a checklist of their responsibilities. Keep this plan easily accessible and drill for different types of disasters.
Though electronic records are certainly the safer option, it’s also to make sure paper documentation is held in storage units or locations rated for smote, water, and fire resistance.
No matter the kind of disaster, communication will be affected. Don’t rely on one method to distribute information. Set up multiple channels and make sure all employees are aware of how they can/will be kept informed.
It’s a good idea to set up an employee portal on your website and designate and off-site user to keep it updated and maintained. Set up text messaging apps or alerts which allow you to disseminate information to all your employees at once and avoid breakdowns in a calling tree.
Let employees know what your expectations are in case communication breaks down. For example, if there’s a forced evacuation, instruct employees to return to their duties within 24 hours of the evacuation being lifted.
It’s just as important to communicate with patients. Update your website with information on closing or relocation and let them know how to reach their practitioner if they have an emergency. Use your patient email list to make sure they’re aware of updates. Patients appreciate you taking the time to inform them during the disaster, and you will experience increased goodwill toward your practice.
Plan for Relocation
The type of practice you have helps decide what your grab-and-go emergency kit should contain. If you are a small dentist’s office, you will probably not see patients during the worst part of the disaster. Once your records and equipment are secure, you only need a way to communicate when you will be open again. If you are a major medical center, your preparations will be much more extensive and likely have an appointed officer or contact to assist in time like these.
If you’re somewhere in the middle, however, it’s important to be prepared and able to react at a moment’s notice. Also, often, disaster can strike with little warning, and if communication does break down it will fall to you to make sure your area is prepared. Store contact information for insurance providers, staff, vendors, and financial representatives in an accessible location.
Automatic transactions with insurance payers can protect cash flow even when your business is being conducted from another location. Using a medical billing clearinghouse that processes your claims remotely can streamline revenue seamlessly. This will be especially important if your facilities encounter damage or the effects of the disaster are prolonged and you will not be able to immediately return and will need a positive cash flow.
Optimize Claims Processing
Processing medical claims can be a chore even under the best circumstances. When health-care providers are focused on saving lives in the most extreme and difficult situations, claims processing can be even more of a challenge. During a widespread disaster, medical personnel are often unable to get to the hospital. When current staff is exhausted and overworked, they don’t have the time or the patience for complex data entry. Avoid errors by choosing integrated, user-friendly medical billing software.
Apex EDI’s Electronic Claims Processing software lets health-care providers use their own practice management software to submit claims with one click. After submission, Apex EDI scrubs each individual claim to check for errors then submits it directly to the insurance payer.
Our tools require very little training and offer turnkey processes that allow you to focus on your patients. No one wants to be faced with offering medical services during a major disaster. In these scenarios however, you’ll want to be able to verify patient eligibility in real time, adhere to health-care legislation, and get paid when the disaster is over. Choose the medical billing clearinghouse that can make medical claims processing easy. Schedule a live, personalized medical billing software demonstration today.