Accelerate the Healthcare Provider Onboarding Process

Imagine your healthcare organization has finally found the right provider to hire in a difficult-to-staff subspecialty—let’s say integrated behavioral health. In our world of provider shortages and burnout, this is a big win. But this particular clinician is still being heavily recruited elsewhere and verbally committed to you, but hasn’t signed on the dotted line just yet.

Does your medical staff services department have this provider on their radar—and if so, does it go ahead with primary source verification? Or do you wait and risk delaying the time from hire to patient care delivery? Is it wasting money to begin credentialing before the contract is signed, or a smart investment that saves time? Most of all, is it compliant to do so?

A fiercely competitive environment for finding and hiring qualified providers forces health systems grapple with such questions. Any misalignment between the individuals and departments responsible for multiple steps that must occur quickly can be costly, affecting revenue, patient satisfaction, provider satisfaction, compliance, and more.

In healthcare, time is of the essence to ensure patients get the care they need, so provider onboarding must be optimized as well. The bad news is that the competition for scarce providers isn’t going away soon. The good news is that technology can help. It goes hand in hand with having a formal process to ensure a streamlined, positive experience for new hires right from the beginning, and one that saves time and resources for health systems by connecting every activity and task along the continuum of provider data management.

What is healthcare provider onboarding?

Healthcare provider onboarding refers to the series of activities that occur before a provider can see patients and receive reimbursement for care and services provided. The process has many steps and involves a multi-departmental team of individuals responsible for:

  • Managing talent/recruiting (internal and/or external)
  • Application/contract oversight
  • Credentialing (conducting primary source verification on the provider)
  • Delineating privileges to the provider
  • Enrolling providers with payers

Provider onboarding can take weeks or months, presenting significant costs to the organization in the form of site visits, training on the electronic health record (EHR) and coding system, and more. These costs are a direct hit to the budget when a provider joins and has not yet begun seeing patients to receive reimbursement for services. 

Using a comprehensive provider data management technology solution in conjunction with a consolidated onboarding program is a proven way to get clinicians new to your organization up and running quickly, while also providing a positive experience—one that promotes short- and long-term retention.

Why is it important to have an efficient provider onboarding process?

Efficient provider onboarding respects providers’ time

First, let’s tackle this question from a provider’s perspective. An efficient onboarding process directly affects a new provider’s perception of the healthcare organization as their employer. A slow, uncoordinated onboarding process leaves a less-than-desirable first impression that could negatively affect their loyalty to the organization. Industry experts have said it can cost organizations as much as $1.2 million to lose even one provider. This is mainly due to additional costs incurred in the form of immediate revenue loss and the high expense associated with recruiting new physicians.

An efficient onboarding process, on the other hand, sets a positive tone and gives new hires confidence that they’ve made the right decision in joining your organization. There’s also the paper burden we heap on providers, as this headline shows: “What's ruining medicine for physicians: Paperwork and administrative burdens.” While a great deal of the administration in patient care is inevitable, it need not be paper based or manual. Your organization can make the onboarding process easier for providers by eliminating duplicative application tasks to notch early satisfaction among them.

Efficient provider onboarding increases patient satisfaction and patient experience

Second, due to factors like higher premiums, patients are increasingly calling the shots in healthcare. They want instant, safe, easily accessible care in a post-COVID-19 world. Patients may not be able to see behind the curtain to recognize that your organization has an expedient and efficient provider onboarding process, but they’ll certainly benefit from the ability to be seen faster by qualified, highly rated physicians, advanced practice professionals, and allied health providers. 

Giving patients access to a robust pool of providers via a comprehensive and up-to-date directory is also a way to use your provider data to significantly boost patient satisfaction, especially during a time when access to care remains strained in many areas of the country. As consumerization in healthcare grows, organizations that can quickly onboard new hires to meet patients’ needs will be the most successful in the long run as they:

  • Become known in the community for providing timely care
  • Be best positioned to attract new patients with ease
  • Be a common referral partner for independent physicians as well.
Efficient provider onboarding is good for business

Third, from an organizational perspective, the ability to generate revenue for the organization comes with the provision of rapid access to care. This is especially important considering physicians generate $2.4 million annually for their affiliated hospitals. When providers are idle and unable to see patients—especially early in the hiring period where privileging and/or payer enrollment drags on—organizations lose money because they now have a novel cost (i.e., the new hire’s salary) for which there is no offset in revenue.

What are the challenges of healthcare provider onboarding?

A shortage of physicians is the primary challenge for organizations striving to onboard new hires. The Association of American Medical Colleges says the U.S. could see an estimated shortage of 54,100 to 139,000 physicians, including primary and specialty care, by 2033. Multiple factors are driving the shortage—which is an increase over the 2019 report forecasting a shortage of 121,900 physicians by 2032:

  • A growing and aging population with more chronic disease
  • Physician retirement and a mass exodus of the healthcare workforce amid the pandemic
  • Increased access to care and insurance coverage for traditionally underserved populations

With regard to burnout in particular, a recent report found that 61% of physicians often experience feelings of burnout, which is a significant increase since 2018. Twenty percent of respondents to this same survey say they know a physician who has either considered, attempted, or died by suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. The stress and anxiety associated with the pandemic has caused many physicians to re-evaluate their careers with some even leaving the healthcare industry altogether. The same is true of nurses, according to an American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) survey on the impact of COVID-19 on nursing leadership. (View symplr's on-demand webinar with AONL on this topic here.)

Once an organization finds top physician and nursing talent, the biggest challenge of onboarding is that it is often a manual, decentralized process. It takes significant time for internal and external recruiters to obtain and validate a provider’s documents related to their medical education, criminal or civil legal actions, internship, and residency—and then pass that information along to human resources.

Following the hiring process, many other individuals must get involved during payer enrollment, managed care contracting, and more. When each department has its own ad-hoc systems for processing candidates, the entire onboarding process becomes inefficient and wasteful of resources.

What are best practices to accelerate healthcare provider onboarding?

There are numerous ways to accelerate the provider onboarding process and remain in compliance. Consider the following eight tips:

  1. Begin the onboarding process as soon as possible. The more lead time organizations have before a provider’s start date, the better.
  2. Take a team approach. Break down silos so the involved departments work together to onboard a provider. Collaboration improves efficiency, preserves resources, and enables new providers to see patients faster.
  3. Centralize data. To enable a team approach, organizations need a centralized data source. Why? Without a single source of truth, organizations run the risk of redundancy. Providers become frustrated when multiple departments request the same information. An end-to-end provider data management solution ensures that no one enters the same provider data twice and that everyone with the proper authorization (and no one without it) can access to real-time information during every step of the onboarding process. In addition, everyone knows their role and specific action items. Cross-department transparency and data sharing also minimizes the likelihood of something being overlooked or forgotten.
  4. Inform proper channels. This includes alerting the medical staff, hospital staff, referral groups, or partners and any other contract groups that the new physician will be joining the organization.
  5. Use a healthcare provider onboarding checklist. Creating a formal healthcare provider onboarding checklist helps the entire team streamline onboarding. It helps everyone stay organized and ensures that no one skips a step in the process. (More on that below.) Consider, too, creating a provider onboarding flow chart and PowerPoint presentation to help educate everyone involved in the onboarding process. Use it when hiring new support staff in HR, medical staff services—and even for training physician leaders who’ll serve on the credentialing committee, MEC, or others that affect onboarding.
  6. Create a provider onboarding guide for new hires. For example, send a welcome packet including information on what the new hire can expect during the onboarding process as well as company policies and procedures and a provider directory.
  7. Leverage opportunities for networking. A new provider needs opportunities to connect with other providers inside the organization as well as in the community at large. Consider organizing a networking event or meet-and-greet luncheon to help orient the new provider. Building relationships with potential referral sources is an added bonus.
  8. Conduct a post-onboarding process survey. Ask those who have just experienced your organization’s onboarding process: What did the organization do well during onboarding, and what does it need to improve? Schedule ongoing follow-up visits with new providers to ensure they are adjusting to the work environment and that they are satisfied and engaged in their new role.
What should be included on a healthcare provider onboarding checklist?

A healthcare provider onboarding checklist should include the specific task or action item, responsible person, deadline, date completed, and any status updates or notes. The goal is to make the checklist as detailed as possible, so nothing's overlooked.

It may be helpful to organize tasks into these categories: 

  • Licensing and credentialing: Obtain state medical license number, national provider identification, DEA license, controlled substance certificate, and Medicare number. Complete the malpractice application, apply for hospital privileges, apply for ASC privileges, obtain Medicaid number, and enroll on all appropriate insurance panels
  • Materials management: Purchase or requisition a new laptop/tablet and mobile phone, and order name plates and tags for the new provider
  • Business administration: Discuss with the provider the organization’s coding and documentation process and educate them about key technology such as the EHR, patient portal, cost estimators, and patient engagement systems 
  • HR: Provide the clinician with the personnel policy manual, give tours/set up orientation, and arrange for parking 
  • IT: Create an email address, develop EHR visit templates, set up remote access, and more 
  • Training: Educate the provider on the EHR, dictation system, web portal, OSHA, and more
  • Marketing: Schedule a photo shoot for a headshot, add the provider’s bio and photo to the web site, submit a story to the local newspaper, update the new provider’s profile on all online rating sites, and more

How can organizations improve onboarding processes with provider credentialing software?

Provider credentialing software expedites the provider onboarding process, of course, but today's technology does so much more than speed workflows. In particular, organizations can digitally gather and store credentialing data and documents using automation, including checks for expired or suspended medical licenses, NPDB, DEA, SAM, and more. Staff across the enterprise can also quickly process, share, and interpret validated, real-time provider credentialing and privileging data to promote provider satisfaction. With connections to a provider directory software program, health systems can also give patients and patient-access teams best-in-class provider search and scheduling capabilities.

What are some healthcare provider onboarding FAQs?

Consider sharing the following common FAQs related to the onboarding process with internal and external colleagues who participate in or are affected by the provider onboarding process.

Q: When should the healthcare provider onboarding process begin?

A: It's best practice for credentialing, privileging, and enrollment to begin the moment a new provider contract is signed.

Q: How long will the entire healthcare provider onboarding process take?

A: Transitioning providers to employment could be a 90- to 180-day process. However, leveraging a provider data management solution and provider credentialing software can help quicken the pace.

Q: What is the most common healthcare provider onboarding mistake?

A: Relying on a siloed, paper-based approach invites mistakes, delays, and regulatory non-compliance. This can delay the entire onboarding process and jeopardize the organization’s relationship with the new provider and even extend to erode patient satisfaction. Leveraging technology and automation are paramount. 

Provider onboarding is a complex process that must be accomplished expertly, without overlooking any steps. Creating a formal, centralized workflow is critical because it ensures that only the most qualified providers join your organization and simultaneously promotes a provider’s ability to see patients as soon as possible after hiring. By shortening an otherwise lengthy process and optimizing provider data management, healthcare organizations can focus on high-quality patient care and revenue generation.

Let symplr help accelerate your provider onboarding process today. 

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