High costs, long contracts

Hospitals across the country are struggling to stay afloat in the wake of relentless economic pressures, with staff shortages topping the list. The issue is especially dire when it comes to nursing staff. Since 2020, hospitals have been relying extensively on travel nurses to fill gaps in their schedules. Worse, as pay for travel nurses went up, an exodus of staff nurses followed.

By the end of 2021, travel nurse pay had stabilized but was still high. According to an August 2022 article in Becker’s Hospital Review, AMN Healthcare expected to “exit 2022 with travel nurse and allied healthcare professional bill rates at approximately 30 percent lower than first-quarter levels.” However, they add that “though demand for travel nurses and allied professionals has declined from an all-time high in Q1, the company expects persistent vacancies and labor shortages to continue.”

Despite this wage stabilization, some hospitals are locked into multi-year contracts with travel nurse associations. This means they are stuck paying at a 2021 level for travel nurses, despite the downward trend in their fees.

Hidden documentation costs

With so many clear costs associated with travel nurses, it would be nice to think there are no hidden costs. Yet there is an unseen documentation cost associated with travel nurses, too.

The main focus of every nurse, first and foremost, is always patient care. Yet nursing responsibilities also include documentation. Tackling this documentation is a burden for all providers but becomes more of an afterthought with travel nurses. First, because they are often brought into a crisis situation so they have less time to focus on documentation. And, second, because they are often given less training on the hospital’s documentation needs.

As a result, charges are more likely to be missed, which only compounds the financial situation facing the hospital.

Recovering missed revenue

When hospitals find themselves hiring large numbers of travel nurses, a wise move is to audit how they capture charges. However, it is unlikely that the revenue cycle team will have the clinical knowledge to know what charges may have been missed in any given treatment. It is equally unlikely that a hospital that is short-staffed would be able to spare a nurse to review the charges.

A better course of action is to have an outside consultant who has both clinical expertise and knowledge of the revenue cycle review the documentation. They will be able to spot what was left out of the charges for specific procedures and patient care – and they won’t drag your providers away from their patients.

Hospitals have a way out

Travel nurses cost more than just their fees. They also come with a hidden cost stemming from incomplete documentation. Luckily, by capturing those missed charges, hospitals can offset the high cost of travel nurses.

Photo by John McArthur on Unsplash.

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