If you’ve ever had a toothache, then you know how painful it can be: a nagging, relentless ache that makes it hard to concentrate on your day. You also probably know that pain is usually a symptom of a bigger problem and, if you put off going to the dentist, it will only get worse.
Likewise, many of the problems or “pain points” IDD or disability service agencies experience on a daily basis — documentation headaches, scheduling issues, billing struggles — are often a symptom of a bigger problem brewing beneath the surface.
In a recent webinar, SETWorks co-CEO and founder David Lindell and National Sales Director Laura Cooper discussed some of the common pain points they’ve seen in dozens of IDD agencies, and what you can do to alleviate them. Here are some of the top takeaways:
Disability service providers usually work with several internal systems — scheduling, timekeeping, client records, payroll, HR, and so on — as well as various external billing and state systems. When these systems can’t talk to each other, you end up having to enter the same data multiple times. Not only that, but reporting is painful when you need to gather information from multiple systems.
To solve this pain point, David says that standardizing your tools and processes is a good first step.
“Standardizing creates consistency across departments which will save a lot of time, help with reporting, and overall give a better picture of what’s going on inside your organization.”
From there, look for ways to consolidate systems. “If you can find a single system that can replace several existing ones, it’s usually the way to go,” says David.
Requirements in the IDD industry are changing quickly, so David advises agencies to look for a software partner who “is invested in your industry, they’re actively developing their software, they’re open to integrating with any system, and they have a track record of adopting and changing as your requirements change.”
For providers, schedule changes are as certain as death and taxes. Staff availability, irregular shifts, high turnover, and ever-changing client needs can all throw a wrench in the scheduling process.
“If you can’t schedule staff, you can’t provide a service, you can’t bill, and then you can’t get paid,” says David.
Some agencies have a standalone scheduling system, but these aren’t usually designed to have things like time tracking, service time, and documentation integrated with scheduling. That’s a problem when it comes time to bill or reconcile.
An integrated scheduling tool can help with this common pain point. “It allows for much more advanced reporting,” says David. “For example, seeing trends on if all your shifts are being worked out to figure out availability issues.”
David says it’s worth getting a demo of several different systems to see how they work for you. You can also ask around to see how other disability service agencies in your network are handling scheduling.
For more tips, including the benefits of training staff to manage their own schedules, watch the full webinar recording.
With requirements that can vary by state or even county, maintaining documentation can be cumbersome for disability service agencies. Sometimes staff documentation is late or incomplete. Or, people resist filling out documentation altogether.
It’s a headache, for sure, but there are bigger things at stake. “When you spend all this time on documentation, you don’t have as much time as you would like to really work with the individuals you’re serving,” says Laura.
Formalizing and documenting your processes is a good place to start. “Maybe build some training manuals — kind of ‘tips and tricks’ sheets for your staff to access. You can even record some brief training videos. We are all so familiar with Zoom now that that’s actually a pretty easy feasible option.”
Ultimately, though, you’re going to need to leverage technology to help. Some organizations start by using tools like Dropbox or Google Drive to store documentation electronically, but the ideal scenario would be to adopt software that was built specifically for disability service agencies.
These systems are capable of accommodating your agency’s specific workflows and documentation requirements — for example, making sure all required fields are filled in before a note can be completed, or requiring a signature in order for staff to get paid.
Speaking of getting paid, billing is another common pain point for disability service agencies. There’s so much that can go wrong, from navigating changing requirements to using different billing systems for each funder to submitting EVV data.
The presenters compare it to a string of old Christmas lights where if one bulb was bad, the entire strand went out. “Bulb by bulb, you had to try to find the culprit. Nine out of 10 times, it was the 99th bulb out of 100 that was causing the problem, so frustration was high by the time you finally got there.”
So how can you make sure your billing doesn’t get rejected, or worse, you fail an audit and find yourself having to pay money back?
First, make sure every department that’s involved in billing knows what to do, where to do it, how, and when. Then, consistently track those key metrics that you have for billing, like authorization utilization. Doing this effectively can help you maximize your billability, and that can also lead to maximizing your revenue.
As with most things, technology is key to alleviating this pain point. Generic billing programs or EHR software systems exist that can help, but it can be expensive to customize these to meet your needs.
A better and more affordable option is to use integrated billing software that’s designed for disability service agencies. These systems include features like error checking to reduce the amount of rejections or partial payments. They can also help track your authorization utilization and staff billability.
The payback can be huge. “We had one client who, before SETWorks, was about 30% billable,” says Laura. “But after using SETWorks, they were able to move to 80 to 90% billability. So you can really see some significant moves by implementing specific software like this.”
Between maintaining a physical file room and buying paper, printers, and ink, the costs of paper records can add up quickly. Not to mention, there’s a very real risk that your documentation could get lost, stolen, or destroyed in a fire.
Then there’s the issue of access. “If you’re paper-based, that’s only available in one place. So you can’t have multiple staff accessing that from different locations when they need it — they have to all come to that central location.”
The presenters recommend moving toward storing your data electronically. “It’s not as intimidating as it might seem. We’ve had many agencies who have hired high school kids over the summer to just simply scan in their paper documents to be stored electronically.”
As for digital security, emailing scanned files can pose a risk due to the lack of encryption. That’s where disability service software comes in.
These systems are capable of organizing all your information in one place and making it accessible anywhere, on any device, at any time. They typically include robust reporting capabilities. And, they allow you to send information securely — even enabling clients to sign documents electronically.
“We have seen lots of cases where the cost savings of no longer purchasing paper, copiers, printers, has offset the cost of a system such as this.”
As requirements for providers become more complex, agencies across the country are talking about how they must become more data-driven. But providers usually aren’t trained on how to use data. Nor do they typically have the tools in place to be able to use their data effectively.
“Often providers have systems that are outdated and not very user-friendly, and also not integrated with other systems,” observes David.
Making sure your data is complete is another issue. “Related staff are sometimes resistant to entering data, especially if the software is hard to use,” David says. “This leads to poor and incomplete data, which hurts your agency’s ability to trust data and use it to be data-driven.”
Creating a formal data management strategy can help, as can investing in the right software system. David says providers must make it a priority to find software that’s easy to use so there’s “minimum friction” for direct support staff.
To learn more about the importance of being data-driven and the stages of data maturity, watch the full webinar recording above.
Systems integrations, documentation headaches, paperwork, scheduling, billing, and becoming data-driven are all common pain points among disability service agencies.
At some point, all providers using paper records, spreadsheets, and legacy software systems will experience at least one of these common pain points. If any of these sound familiar, it might be time to consider a modern solution. To learn more, watch the full webinar recording.
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