Meet Principal, Ben Colton, the leader of ECG’s revenue cycle practice. Hear Ben’s perspective on the revenue cycle landscape and how we address the challenges facing organizations today.
Q: How did you get into healthcare management consulting?
A: I needed a job when I got out of college. My girlfriend at the time got me a position at The Polyclinic doing data entry. I worked my way up to eventually becoming the manager of cash posting and charge entry in the billing office there. I also helped write a majority of the policies and procedures related to the new practice management system they were implementing at the time. I eventually went to grad school and knew I had interest in consulting; fortuitously, ECG was looking for somebody who had revenue cycle experience.
Q: What was the revenue cycle landscape like?
A: From a consulting perspective, our work was very much focused on large, traditional assessment-type engagements, as well as optimizing the use of staff in billing offices. Over the last 10 years, I’d say the people part of it is still very important, but there’s been a large shift toward how we can make technology work for us as we look to increase our yield and reduce our cost.
Q: How did you become interested revenue cycle consulting?
A: When I started at the firm, we were still very much a generalist firm, and I worked in the academic division. I supported engagements where I was evaluating the research enterprise, redesigning compensation plans, assessing funds flow arrangements, and other traditional project types, but what always interested me was operations-based projects. I think that was primarily because you get to work with folks in the C-suite and address issues that really will drive the financial health of the organization, and it requires you to interact with the folks who are doing the work. I enjoy sitting hip to hip with somebody who’s executing operational processes, and then, in the very same week, talking to the CEO of the health system. This allows me to translate the issues and the strategy between the full continuum of staff support within an organization.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge facing healthcare organizations regarding their revenue cycle?
A: I think I was sort of alluding to it before. We must do more with less. We’ve got shrinking reimbursement. We’ve got more complex environments from a payor perspective, and payors are trying to hold on to their money in any way that they can, but we also must make sure that we are doing all of this in a cost-conscious way. I can’t necessarily have 47 million people touching all this work.
We have to figure out how to be able to do a better job on a smaller cost basis. Also, how to do it in an environment that still promotes a high-quality patient experience and HIPAA compliance. The key will be balancing these factors coupled with broader trends in the industry, such as the high degree of consolidation as well as practice acquisition by larger medical groups or health systems. Organizations are evolving to complex, integrated health systems, and leadership is asking how to garner efficiencies. Within my practice area, the ideal is to move toward a single revenue cycle across that health system rather than a federation of distant structures.
Q: What’s the most interesting challenge you’ve faced as a consultant?
A: Implementing recommendations that on paper appear to be pretty straightforward, but then when you consider the change management that’s required, the effort can be significant and have major implications. It is certainly a challenge to change how 100 people are doing something without disrupting cash flow.
Q: Is there a particularly rewarding project you’ve worked on that you could share with us?
A: We were working with a private physician practice that was on the verge of bankruptcy, and we helped them to address their near-term and longer-term cash flow issues to focus on the immediate problems as well as to give them a plan for ongoing financial stability. It was really rewarding to work with this small group and see the tangible impact we had on their revenue and their lives. Shout-out to Kevin Contorno for all of his hard work!
Q: What’s the best part of your workday?
A: I really enjoy interacting with our clients. Any time I’ve got a call with a client, it’s great because I feel like we really are their trusted advisers. I’m able to talk strategy and contribute to the trajectory of their success.
Q: What do you do outside of the office?
A: I hang out with my wife and dogs.