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How Cross-Training Strengthens the Bottom Line and Customer Service

Cross-training staff is a time-intensive endeavor, especially if you do it correctly. That’s why many practices hesitate to make it a routine part of their operations. But properly cross-trained staff bring more to a practice than the ability to “cover” for one another during illnesses or vacations—they help improve the bottom line.

Thoroughness is the key to a good cross-training program. Offering front-desk staff only a high-level view of back-office operations, for instance, is not enough. Instead, solid cross-training should reveal in real detail how front-desk tasks affect the back-end, and vice versa.

The goal is to encourage a collective mindset by making all staff aware of the true effect their actions have on both patient care and the revenue cycle. An effective program must:

  • be well-planned;
  • engage your most experienced individuals in the “teaching” roles;
  • map out specific learning objectives for each staff member; and
  • ensure the learning objectives are met.

I recommend formal cross-training no less than twice a year; more frequently for practices or departments with high turnover. Initiate the idea, however, with each new employee. New hires should be required to visit with all department managers within a month or so to get an overview of operations. Make sure they see the daily issues that affect billing, patient follow-up and collections. At larger practices, a week-long new-employee training session might be appropriate.

Then, provide training to everyone at regular intervals. Some offices close down for half a day for training activities, but I don’t believe that’s necessary. Instead, have one person at a time move for half of each day, for one week. Stagger the timing so that staff members experience both morning and afternoon shifts, and so that no department has more than one person cross-training at a time.

It all starts at the beginning, so shifting front-desk staff to the back office—and the reverse—is critical. Front-desk staff turnover tends to be high, yet they set the stage for successful revenue collection. It is critical that they be well-trained. In addition, make sure all staff have at least a general knowledge of coding and charge entry.

If your practice has multiple locations, consider allowing employees—including nurses, MAs and other clinical staff—to see how their counterparts in the other offices do things. It’s a way to expose staff to “best practices” within your own group.

Effective cross-training requires commitment and buy-in from everyone in the practice, including providers, administrators, and staff. In return, however, you gain flexibility and the opportunity for process improvement. Ultimately, by broadening the knowledge base of every employee, you promote better customer service.