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Recap from 2024 Carnival HFMA Western Symposium [PODCAST]

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In this episode, we’re pleased to welcome back Randi Deckard, Senior Vice President of Client Engagement at BESLER, who provides us with a recap from the recent HFMA Western Symposium 2024 Carnival. 

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Highlights of this episode include:

  • Highlights from the keynote speakers
  • How AI was discussed at this conference
  • The recurring topics in the panels
  • Why people should attend in-person events like this one

Kelly Wisness: Hi, this is Kelly Wisness. Welcome back to the award-winning Hospital Finance Podcast. We’re pleased to welcome back Randi Deckard, Senior Vice President of Client Engagement here at BESLER. In this episode, Randi will provide us with a recap from the recent HFMA Western Symposium 2024 Carnival that she recently attended in Las Vegas. Welcome back and thank you for joining us today, Randi.

Randi Deckard: Hi, Kelly. It’s great to be with you.

Kelly: Yeah, well, let’s go ahead and jump in today. So can you share a few highlights from some of the keynote speakers at the event?

Randi: Absolutely. So, one of the keynotes that I thought was an interesting pick was Scott Hamilton. As you may know, he is a U.S. figure skater who has meddled four times. And the reason HFMA brought him on was, number one, he’s been a professional patient. From the time that he was adopted, he had illnesses as a child, and that’s kind of why he got into skating. It was the one thing that he could do. He also faced cancer multiple times. One of the things that you know he stressed, and I think it applies to just life in general, but leadership and in healthcare, one is empathy, and then two is persistence. And he really talked about how many times he fell, including the first time that he was in the Junior Olympics laying on his back, looking up, saying, “Oh my gosh, I did this in front of 17,000 people.” But he got up and did it again. And it was really a story about resilience. And I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. And like I said, just from being a professional patient and his experience of looking at all the challenges he faced, not as challenges, but second chances of recovery and what he was going to do with his life was very inspiring.

The other keynote speaker that was also really inspiring was Nio Queiro. Nio is a VP of Rev Cycle who is now in the speaking circuit and she faced a very traumatic life disease. And through that trauma and almost dying, she has written a book, Joy Notes. And she also talks about leadership and once again, how facing something like that and having that second chance is critical. So, the resilience from those two people was very heartwarming, but also the care that they received and the reason that they got their second chance, I thought was very noteworthy. And then, of course, the person who closed out the conference was Tracy Spears, and she is known for her leadership talks. And she brought a lot at the end. You think it’s the end of the conference, oh my gosh, last keynote speaker. And as she talked about leadership, she really involved people. And she also shared her failures and how she turned things around. And one of the main things is mindset. And as a leader, just in life in general, your mindset really does determine your outlook and how you view things and how you act. So that was just, like I said, very inspiring. And so those were a little bit different than your normal CFO standing up and talking. So, I just thought people might want to – the next time they’re at an event, if one of those speakers are there – make sure they catch them because it really is worth hearing from them.

Kelly: I completely agree. On a personal level, I used to work with Tracy and have actually seen her perform or give her speech at other events from other companies I’ve worked at. So. I mean, she is amazing, and I’m sure the other ones were amazing too. Sounds like you had some really great keynote speakers there.

Randi: Absolutely.

Kelly: So, speaking of kind of topics and things that were discussed there, how was AI discussed at this conference?

Randi: Yeah, I’m so glad you brought that up because you can’t turn anywhere without someone talking about AI. It was interwoven through several presentations, as well as chatter at the tables, what people were doing, as well as folks at the booth talking about how they’re thinking about AI. I think one of the main takeaways is that AI is a way in healthcare specifically to take a bite out of the cost. It’s not about replacing people, but it is about automating some of those mundane tasks and also allowing people to do more with less because of the automation. One of the biggest areas that I saw talked about at this particular event was in doing chart reviews. So, actually looking at coding or even a chart review from a physician perspective, what’s documented and what the codes presented were. And then also analyzing the chart and looking at the data to see if anything was missed from a best practice perspective. So, throughout the whole conference, like I said, you couldn’t turn around without someone talking about AI. It wasn’t about replacing jobs. It was about making healthcare more efficient by automating certain tasks, but you still need a human at the center for context.

Kelly: Most definitely. And yes, AI is everywhere right now. I think every conference I’ve been at for the last year has had a big component on AI. So, I know you kind of talked about AI already, but what were some of those recurring topics in the panels that you were hearing? I’m sure there were things that you just kept hearing over and over again.

Randi: Yeah, so, I mean, there’s still a lot of talk about value-based care. And one speaker in particular talked about how things need to change in the US. Brought up the fact our commercial insurers and pharma are posting record profits. However, for the average American, healthcare costs have continued to go up. And there’s also a lack of access. So, there was still a lot of talk about value-based care and how we can operate differently. And through that, some potential cost efficiencies. One was telehealth is here to stay. During COVID, that boomed. And that’s one area that is definitely here to stay– is definitely here to stay. It’s definitely been proven that for routine follow-up that telehealth can work and can be beneficial. And especially for those who maybe have challenges accessing healthcare, telehealth is a great option. The other thing that was brought up again in relation to value-based care was at-home health. So at-home health is where you can have inpatient care at home. Over the last 18 months to three years, there have been several states and payers and hospital systems that have been modeling this. What I’ve heard over and over again that patients do better in their home when they can be treated at home, and it ends up costing less.

And so this is something that the systems where it’s been modeled and the states where it’s been modeled and they’ve had success, now it’s more about how can we get all payers on board with this type of– with this type of service. The other thing is payer provider collaboration. Denials are something that was talked about and woven through different panels, presentations, business partners presenting. When I was sitting around the tables, a lot of people talked about how they’re handing denials. And there was actually a session on how payers and providers collaborate better. Part of it was AI looking at denials. Part of it was looking at contracts and ensuring that the contract terms are appropriate. And then part of it was education for internal staff that came up fairly frequently. And kind of going from that to staffing, that was still another thing that is a concern. There are areas like reimbursement that are aging out and then other areas where the hospital margins are so slim, making sure that they have appropriate staffing for quality of care. Things like AI and automating that really plays into how the CFOs are looking at managing their hospitals, not replacing staff, but having high-quality staff and using automation.

The other thing that I heard more chatter about at the tables and not so much necessarily in a specific panel or breakout session was cybersecurity. A lot of hospitals, over the last few years, have had ransomware attacks, and unfortunately, there have been fatalities in the U.S. as a result of ransomware attacks and ambulances being diverted. So, a lot of people were talking about how they can protect their data and then how it all basically starts with employees. So, there was a lot of conversation at the table and not so much necessarily at a particular panel on that. And then lastly, throughout my conversations of introducing some VPs and just talking to different panelists, as well as just sitting at the table, leadership kept coming up. And because of the slim margins and because of the challenges in healthcare with rising costs, staffing, a lot of hospitals’ leadership are looking at how they’re going to sustain and serve their communities. And one of the things that I thought was very great for people to hear was– there was a panel on how you have to navigate in leadership. And one of the things that everyone has to do is embrace change, and with the rapid onset of technology, we can never lose sight of the fact that we are treating a human being, and a patient is more than just an ID and a number. And so, I was really happy to hear about how folks are looking at how they’re going to drive the helm, but still remain patient-centric for the communities that they serve.

Kelly: Yeah, I mean, I completely agree with that. Those are all some great topics and definitely things that have been trending in the news and all of that. Why should people attend in-person events like this one?

Randi: So, I think the reason that people should attend is, number one, you get to collaborate with your peers and have those candid conversations about what’s working well, what’s not working well, whether you join a think tank or it’s just at the breakfast table. And then it’s also about what you don’t know. I think that technology is at such a fast pace and how people are dealing with it, how people are thinking about it. It’s a great way to meet people and expand your network. So, when you’re faced with what you might do in your organization, or if you have a question, you’ve built a network of people that you can tap on outside of your organization for a little bit different perspective.

Kelly: Most definitely, there are some great reasons to go to those events in person. Well, Randi, thank you so much for sharing your insights from the recent 2024 HFMA Western Symposium. We really appreciate all of these insights that you’ve shared today.

Randi: Thank you so much for having me on, Kelly.

Kelly: And thank you all for joining us for this episode of The Hospital Finance Podcast. Until next time…

[music] This concludes today’s episode of the Hospital Finance Podcast. For show notes and additional resources to help you protect and enhance revenue at your hospital, visit The Hospital Finance Podcast is a production of BESLER | SMART ABOUT REVENUE, TENACIOUS ABOUT RESULTS.


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