Cutting Costs with Automation

Cutting Costs with Automation

Wallace Weeks

Byline: Wallace Weeks

Some say that dark clouds have silver linings. A few weeks ago I saw one.

Looking forward to getting home, I was disappointed when Delta Flight 692 was late leaving Norfolk, Va. It arrived in Atlanta’s Concourse A at the same time my connecting flight was leaving Concourse E. When I deplaned, I asked the gate agent if she could rebook me for the next flight home.

Here is the silver lining: She told me that I had already been rebooked. All I needed to do was go to the service counter and put my old boarding pass under the scanner to get a new confirmation printed.

With skepticism that the process could now be so simple, and amazement that the system could be so proactive, I walked down the concourse. Sure enough, when I put my boarding pass under the scanner, it popped out a piece of paper confirming my new flight home. As I walked toward the service counter, a uniformed agent called out my name. When I answered, he said, “Here’s your boarding pass, Mr. Weeks. Have a good flight.” Wow! I thanked him and then wondered, why don’t we do so well with automation?

As a frequent flyer for many years, I had expected to stand in line and wait to work with a service agent getting rebooked. Try to calculate how many man-hours Delta must have stopped paying for with this new system. And to top it off, they are making the rebooking process easier for the customer, too. Again, why don’t we do so well with automation?

One process we do have automated pretty well is Medicare claims submission, but beyond that, there are a lot of opportunities. Here are a few to consider:

Counting Inventory – This process is the easiest to automate. Today, providers small and large make weekly, physical inventory counts. There is no need. Available software can support perpetual inventory and reduce physical inventories to quarterly at the most.

Receiving and Relieving Inventory – The way to automate this process is by adding bar code readers to the perpetual inventory system. When an order arrives or leaves, it only needs to be scanned to be counted in or out.

Purchasing – Another addition to the perpetual inventory system is setting reorder points so that the inventory software can prompt the placement of the order.

Intake – Some companies have developed software to automate intake rather than taking a telephone call or deciphering a fax. There is at least one commercial application available if you don’t have software development capability.

Electronic Claims Submission – Submissions to insurance companies are where the opportunity exists here. There are companies that facilitate the electronic claim submission process, which works about the same as sending a batch to Medicare.

Accounts Payable – Setting up an electronic funds transfer service (EFT) with the bank will eliminate printing checks, getting them signed, separating stubs, stuffing checks and invoices in envelopes and metering the envelopes.

Claim Status Checks – It is not too difficult to develop custom software to automate the retrieval of online claims status.

Payroll Processing – The automation can start at timekeeping and be fed to the payroll system of the accounting software. This usually only requires a change in the process.

Management Reports – Most HME companies that do what is considered a good job with the preparation and distribution of management reports have an employee who takes data from the reports of multiple software applications, such as billing and accounting, then transcribes the numbers from those reports into a spreadsheet application. Custom software can automate the data retrieval, perform the calculations and distribute the reports.

And this is only the easy list. For providers more intent on improving productivity and reducing costs through automation, the list can be extended.

Wallace Weeks is founder and president of The Weeks Group Inc., a Melbourne, Fla.-based strategy consulting firm. He can be reached at 321/752-4514 or by e-mail at wweeks@weeksgroup.com .

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