Submitted on Thu, 2014-03-13
By SMART Health Claims

It’s not a simple switch to flip, but thinking about every facet of your department as part of an interconnected and healthy whole will have a major long-term impact on your bottom line.

Running a Community Health Department

Relying on inconsistent and limited government funding to remain operational is a major hurdle facing local health departments. Learning to run your local health department as if it were a private business will not only help you increase revenue and become more efficient, but will also free you from outside funding having such a large impact on your community. You’ll be able to pay your entire staff and provide great service to your community regardless of what local and federal lawmakers are up to.

What follows are the two key ways to start running your local health department like a private business.

Defining Your Local Health Department’s Business Processes

Performing a deep analysis of your operations is a great way to kick start the process of improving service quality and positively transforming the performance of your health department. Operations analysis requires placing a top-down focus on your local health department as a whole and then understanding how each part contributes to overall business goals. Analyzing and defining your operational processes and systems as if they were part of a private business will help uncover inefficiencies and allow you to reformat your operations so each part of your department works towards the same goal.

Typically, local health departments are not run with a focus placed on “the big picture”. Instead of concentrating on organization-wide goals, a recent survey by the Public Health Informatics Institute found that…

It seemed that the respondents (local health departments) had difficulty articulating their needs, in that they knew they wanted something better, but did not know what would be better. Both problems and needs were more often incremental and ad hoc in nature rather than encompassing a view of the total functions of a health department or public health in general.

Shifting this way of thinking is not always an easy task, but framing thoughts into a three-step approach will prove to be a big help.

  1. Think through the specific tasks and processes used to achieve your specific public health objectives (this could also be called analyzing business practices).
  2. Reconsider how the tasks and processes are completed to increase their effectiveness and efficiency (this could also be called redesigning business practices).
  3. Document and implement new systems that will support your new ways of doing business.

Business Process Analysis

Bring together all the leaders in your health department to collaborate on these new business practices. It will help each person feel like they’re part of a whole and start to shift their frame of reference to the overall well-being of the health department. It’s not a simple switch to flip, but thinking about every facet of your department as part of an interconnected and healthy whole will have a major long-term impact on your bottom line.

Generating Sustainable Cash Flow

Now that you’ve thought through and enhanced your business processes, it’s time to focus on the key measure of running a successful business. The main similarity between local health departments and traditional businesses is the need to have a constant cash cushion. Your department can’t provide immunization services if you can’t buy the immunizations or pay your staff, just as a business can’t operate if it can’t pay its bills.

The best way to create this cash cushion without relying on government funding is by creating sustainable revenue. Billing electronically for services that health departments already provide is what will transform public health agencies into operating as if they were a self-sufficient business.

To bring this back full circle to the first point discussed in this article, you can continue to refine your business process based on constant analysis of the features built into most electronic billing systems. One of the most important aspects of a billing process is the business intelligence to stay on top of a health department’s reimbursement trends, top service codes used, rejection and denial management, and other defining statistics. Robust reporting tools and data dashboards for full clinic and financial visibility allow public health departments to have insight into their organization’s key performance indicators.

With strong business processes and centralized billing in place, local health departments have the ability to adopt a new way to generate revenue that will allow for an expansion of services, staff members, and community outreach programs. Operating a local health department using private business principles allows your organization to place more attention on what is important: your community and your patients.

With our program, local health departments can learn how to develop self-sustaining revenue with minimal upfront costs. Learn more about how we make revenue generation for public health easy and about our challenge to help add $100 million in sustainable revenue to public health departments over the next 3 years.

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