The Patient Financial Services team is here to help

If you’ve ever tried to understand a medical bill, you know how confusing it can be. Figuring out how to pay those bills only adds more stress. Thankfully, the Patient Financial Services team at Southeast Georgia Health System takes pride in helping patients. “We understand the challenges and barriers our patients face. So many are unable to pay their patient portion in full, but fortunately our Health System offers financial assistance or monthly payment plans to help reduce the stress our patients are already under from life challenges before and after COVID-19,” says Donna Boatright, manager, Patient Financial Services (PFS). Her department oversees billing for the Health System’s Brunswick and Camden campuses, along with the Senior Care Center-Brunswick.

A Combined Effort

Lest you think that the nearly 80 hospital and physician billing team members are impersonal number crunchers, consider what PFS Supervisor for Southeast Georgia Physician Associates, Heather Ussery, CPAR, and PFS Team Leader and Patient Advocate for the Health System, Jenny Bandy, CPAR, have to say. “People seem to forget that we’re human and we’re here to help. We make the best effort to get things done accurately and smoothly,” says Ussery. Bandy agrees, “We do everything in our power to ensure claims are submitted correctly and in a timely manner so that they get paid. The stall tactics insurance companies use before paying a claim only compounds the frustration our patients feel and we do as well.”

Ussery believes that every Health System team member affects the patient experience. “If you have a good hospital or physician experience, but a bad experience with billing, it reflects poorly on the Health System overall. The patient experience usually starts with registration, and continues through to the lab, nurses, doctors, billing and so on. It’s a combined effort by all departments.”

Creating Clarity from Confusion

Even though they specialize in medical billing, Ussery and Bandy acknowledge how hard it can be to understand their roles within the Health System. “People say, ‘I can’t believe you deal with this every day!’ Some call us crying because they don’t know what else to do. It feels good when a patient is relieved because we helped,” Bandy says. It’s particularly rewarding, Ussery adds, when a patient says that she explained their insurance coverage better than their human resources representative or the person who sold them their insurance policy.

Serving others is central to what the PFS department does, even when it requires extraordinary effort. One day, an older woman, overwhelmed by her husband’s medical bills, called the department seeking help. Her husband had always managed their bills, but recently had a stroke. “Sometimes a traumatic experience generates multiple bills from multiple providers. She needed someone to listen and explain,” Bandy recalls. Three hours later, the woman thanked Bandy for her help, then told the Health System president and CEO and other administrators how much she appreciated Bandy’s efforts. “At the end of the day, I’d like to know our teams made a difference to our patients,” states Bandy

Behind the Scenes-The aftermath and ongoing effects from COVID-19

During the peak of the pandemic the PFS staff adjusted to their own challenges and workflow interruptions. To decrease exposure to the virus, team members were divided into two separate 10-hour shifts. “Our team stepped up, despite inconveniences, and continued work as usual. Many team members or their family members were diagnosed with COVID-19; thankfully, when a team member was out, their co-workers were always willing to assist. Many put in extra hours to cover for each other. The teamwork displayed was amazing,” says Boatright.

Witnessing how her team “lifted each other up during trying times,” Judy Marshall, professional billing manager, Southeast Georgia Physician Associates, says, “We are extremely proud of our staff. Even when they were tired and stressed, they did not give up. They continued to tackle daily challenges and kept smiling even though we couldn’t see it due to masking!”

Marshall’s team manages the accounts receivables for Southeast Georgia Physician Associates, which is comprised of approximately 52 clinics and 180 individual providers, including hospital medicine physicians.

Staffing shortages affected the entire health care industry and, unfortunately, the PFS department wasn’t spared. At one point there were eight vacant positions to fill. When the pandemic demanded an ‘all hands on deck’ approach, billing staff rose to the occasion, along with many others. “So many non-clinical team members worked overtime and weekends to help with COVID-19 screening and testing,” states Ussery. Inspired by her co-workers’ dedication to do whatever it takes, she adds, “I love my team!”

A Call for Empathy

If the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t challenging enough, the PFS department went through a system conversion that started on May 1, 2021. This brought on several changes for the department and for the patients. “We are still fine tuning some processes, but overall, the conversion went better than expected,” says Boatright.

“When a patient visits our Health System, our PFS team wants to relieve the concerns they may have about whether or not their claim was properly adjudicated or how to pay for out-of-pocket expenses,” adds Marshall. So, the next time you receive a hospital bill, rest assured the PFS team is advocating on your behalf. Ussery has had many of her own medical bills, so she understands the public’s frustration with health care costs, but she also understands there is a lot more to each bill and that it’s part of the Health System’s mission to provide cost-effective care to every patient.