Here we are, once again, standing on the precipice of a new year. Turning the calendar page means millions of people will make resolutions – some of which, unfortunately, won’t be kept, but all are important for setting a tone and a vision for the New Year.

For hospitals, an important resolution well worth keeping is a commitment to increasing profitability. In an era of declining reimbursement and growing regulations, hospitals must get creative in finding new sources of revenue and reducing expenses associated with ongoing operations.

As 2018 looms closer, consider these five ideas to get a head start on your profit-building resolution-making plans.

1. Improve Patient Experience

Improving patient experience should be a chief aim of any hospital, not just at the beginning of the year but every day. Doing so can result in a stream of new patients coming through your clinical service line and emergency department doors and lead to satisfied patients returning to your hospital whenever their healthcare needs demand.

That's not merely conjecture. It’s a fact. American hospitals that gave a superior patient experience gained net margins that were 50 percent higher, on average, than those that provided an ordinary customer experience, a report from RevCycle Intelligence states.

One way to improve patient experience is to think of your patients as if they were customers.

"[A]s competition intensifies, and expectations from consumers who are accustomed to receiving exceptional experiences from other businesses and industries continue to rise, healthcare organizations must shift their thinking toward treating patients as customers," Hospitals & Health Networks (H&HN) magazine asserts.

To accomplish this, H&HN advises hospitals to look beyond just their patients and seek a deeper understanding of the community they serve. It also encourages administrators to express leadership in creating a more patient-centric culture and providers to be proactive in engaging with their patient-customers.

In 2018, it pays to make improving patient experience your number one profit-building resolution.

2. Outsource Key Revenue Cycle Functions

High-deductible health plans have negatively affected many patients' ability to pay for healthcare services. Hospitals facing difficulty collecting payments from self-pay patients have seen the impact of inefficient collection practices on your revenue cycle’s ROI.

One solution, says Becker’s Hospital Review, is to establish partnerships with financial service experts and IT providers to improve financial management and efficiency.

"Few provider organizations have the talent, capital and IT resources necessary to keep pace with a rapidly changing economic environment," Becker’s says. "Instead, many healthcare organizations have seen value in establishing partnerships with financial service experts and IT providers for improved financial management, freeing up hospital resources and administrators' attention for what matters most — patient care."

Some hospital CFOs are implementing updated financial systems to improve economic health and increase revenue cycle efficiency. Others are outsourcing revenue cycle management altogether, while others are opting for a hybrid model that includes employing third-party services in select processes while improving in-house RCM practices in others.

3. Focus on the Care Continuum

The shift away from fee-for-service and volume-based measures toward quality-based measures requires that hospitals look at the entire continuum of care, from the initial admission to the appropriate post-acute setting and follow-up after discharge.

The "triple aim" of healthcare — better care, lower cost, and a healthier population — is driving much of this effort to coordinate care across the continuum. For example, post-acute care models encourage a smooth transition from the ED or hospital setting, provide a bridge to primary care, and can help reduce risk while improving outcomes.

Proper coordination along the care continuum also means EM and HM providers must work together and communicate more effectively. Even though both groups have the same goal - improving patient care - conflict can erupt when priorities are misaligned, negatively impacting patient care and concurrently, the hospital's bottom line.

Establishing regular EM/HM stakeholder meetings, encouraging comradery between EM and HM team members, and defining shared goals are just a few of the ways to solve this problem.

Recommended resource: Try These 5 Collaborative Solutions to Prevent ED and Hospitalist Conflict

4. Reduce Readmission Rates

Hospitals that readjust their focus toward the entire care continuum can then turn their attention to one of the more relevant aspects: reducing avoidable readmissions.

Readmissions adversely impact a hospital's bottom line in several ways — not the least of which is the high costs associated with them and scrutiny from private health insurers and patients. Hospitals with high levels of preventable readmissions also face the prospect of losing part of their Medicare, Medicaid, or other governmental reimbursements.

Your hospital can reduce its readmission rate in two ways: by making sure patients routinely attend post-acute office visits after discharge and providing condition-specific educational materials to ensure patients take the proper post-discharge steps. The more knowledgeable your patients are about their condition and how to manage it, the less likely they are to require readmission.

5. Hire Hospitalists to Manage Patient Care

Hospitals that use hospitalists to manage patient care benefit from more efficient care and better documentation. The result: reduced length of stay for patients, increased case volume, and better reimbursement per patient, without the need for additional beds.

A well-managed HM program can positively impact value-based purchasing bonuses, readmission penalties, patient satisfaction and resource utilization. Get started with this checklist of 5 strategies to maximize the value of an HM program.

Conclusion

Maintaining profitability during a time of declining reimbursement and increased regulations is a challenge every hospital faces — including yours.

Our team of experts can assist you in implementing proven revenue growth strategies that include making improvements in patient satisfaction, finding new sources of revenue, managing operational costs, and boosting revenue cycle performance.

With that in mind, perhaps your first (and only) resolution should be to contact us to learn how we can get your financial trajectory moving toward higher profitability in 2018 and beyond.