Hospital software cause bill struggles

Hangups in a new electronic records system caused delays in billings and reduced the amount of cash available at Whidbey General Hospital.

Hospital officials said they are expecting to spend more than $7.5 million implementing an electronic records system provided by Meditech that originally went online in May.

When the new system went live, staff had to deal with an abnormally slow billing process, hospital spokeswoman Trish Rose said in an email.

“As issues were identified, they were fixed, but months passes as we worked through system and process bottlenecks and cash on-hand declined to critical levels while our accounts receivable climbed,” Rose said.

Whidbey General Hospital hadn’t had an electronic records system prior to Meditech. Hospital leaders had to purchase a medical system as a requirement of the Affordable Patient Care Act. If the hospital didn’t install such a system, then it would face a $50,000 penalty in 2015 plus a $550,000 reduction of Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements. The glitch caused by the new system caused delays in the bills patients receive; however no accounts were sent to collection and hospital officials gave a grace period and extended payment plans,  public relations liaison Keith Mack said in an email. Patient care wasn’t affected.

Rose said that once billing process started working, coders and billers started sending out millions of dollars worth of bills in a few weeks.

“They did an outstanding job and continue to work the backlog of charges and bills,” Rose said.

She said cash flow into the hospital has been restored, but it will take months to recover. During this time, administrators will be as conservative as possible in regards to overtime, supplies, staffing, travel and education.

The billing snafu caused cash problems for the hospital.

Mack said that at the lowest point, the hospital had two-and-a-half days worth of cash on hand. The Whidbey General Hospital board in the fall approved a $4 million line of credit and, of that amount, the hospital drew $2 million.

The number of days worth of cash increased to 12.2 days and cash receipts are continuing to increase. Mack said the hospital will pay back the line of credit in the next four months.

In addition to the work getting the hospital’s books in order, Rose said staff has to prepare for another update that will take place in March.

That needs to be done in order to comply with the Affordable Care Act.


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