George Buck – Accounts Receivable
Management & Healthcare Consultant
George is a veteran of the Accounts Receivable Management (ARM) industry with over 40 years of experience in the field. His expertise today lies in assisting organizations to improve their performance along with successfully navigating compliance and regulatory issues.
He is widely recognized as a source of thought-leadership and actionable best practices for the ARM and healthcare revenue cycle market. In this in-depth interview with me, George talks about his invaluable experience of four decades within an organization and the challenges he has overcome to emerge as one of the industry’s leading experts and educators.
Starting in Revenue Cycle Management
After graduation, while working on his MBA, George became a part of the retail industry. Looking to be part of something more challenging, George interviewed and started with Frost-Arnett Company in 1979, which has a core in servicing the revenue cycle needs of the healthcare industry.
He started as a collector, advanced overtime to a division manager, to vice president of sales, and then to a CEO role in 2002, a position he held through 2016. When he began considering retirement, George then served two years as President Emeritus after which he retired at the end of 2019.
Since retiring, he has stayed involved in the Accounts Receivable Management (ARM) industry and healthcare revenue cycle worlds from an advocacy as well as a consulting role.
‘Consulting has been a great opportunity to learn the various trends, the various intricacies, the various challenges from a third-party perspective and try to bring both sides together to talk about what is not only in the best interest of business but what is in the best interest of the patient, the consumer.’
Four Decades With One Organization
In this day and age where jobs change every few months or years, a 40-year experience in a single company offers a rare insight. George shares that there were multiple reasons that encouraged him to grow within the company instead of looking for new opportunities.
One important aspect was knowing he could make a difference. Emerging as a leader in the company, George found himself looking at new ways to empower the people around him to grow as well. He realized that company success required a guided team effort and his guidance played an important role in helping every team member grow and learn from their experiences.
Finally, George found great value in being able to sit back and see what the accomplishments had been over time and how those accomplishments impacted the lives of not only employees but people outside of the organization.
‘Integrity was at the top of the list when it comes to values. As was giving the right credit to those that had accomplished their goals and had been at the core of making something successful.’
Over the years, the ARM industry has witnessed several changes. George recalls that the industry has become increasingly consumer-centric in terms of its outreach while tuning in to the real challenges of the healthcare providers.
‘There is a downward pressure on healthcare providers to offer the same level of services with less reimbursement. They rely more and more on their outsource partners to provide a high level, quality service.’
According to George, the real tug of war is between the provider and the payers because the payers control the marketplace. This forces the healthcare industry leaders to find ways to be more efficient in terms of their revenue cycle processes.
As providers change their delivery model, they are looking more and more to outsource the different aspects of the revenue cycle process.
Consultant, Thought Leader and Educator
Currently, George is consulting with people across the healthcare revenue cycle industry as well as the ARM industry domains. Through his experience, he believes the biggest challenge these days is to get people to come together and understand each other’s expectations.
‘I think today the single most important challenge is how we can meet the needs of the client while offering a quality patient experience.’
Looking to shift the focus on resolving accounts for the benefit of the provider as well as the consumer, George spends a lot of his time in advocacy work. He has been speaking at conferences, talking about the current regulations that impact not only on the ARM industry but providers as well.
‘Listening is a big part of the challenge today. Listening and understanding what the challenges are and talking through the best ways to meet those challenges.’
In his consulting tenure, George credits word-of-mouth and his connections over the years to be the major reason for clients approaching him. He also finds LinkedIn to be a great resource in terms of continuing to learn the current trends in today’s marketplace.
He is also a member of several different organizations, including the Healthcare Financial Management Association, Medical Group Management Association, American Collector’s International Association, American Association for Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM), as well as on the executive board of the Middle Tennessee Better Business Bureau.
For his work in this domain, George has also been recognized amongst the top 50 receivable professionals at CollectTECH19.
Standout Moments As a Business Leader
For George, a standout moment was being named CEO of the organization. Being a family-owned business, progressing this far was a huge accomplishment. With his expertise, George expedited the growth from a 4 to 5-million-dollar company to a 30-million-dollar company. The team also grew from 125 employees to over 400 employees in those years.
Overcoming Challenges Over the Years
The downward pressure on provider reimbursement has conversely created a huge opportunity for the accounts receivables management industry.
The expectation has changed from ‘cash is king’ to the patient is in control. It is all about the patient experience. The question becomes, how do we communicate with the patient at the place and time that is most convenient for them. Meeting this challenge will require the effective use of technology, from web-based patient portals, mobile-based apps, and IVR along with artificial intelligence in terms of being able to serve that patient.
The key is to make the use of technology easier for the consumer so that they can quickly grasp it, understand it, and take the advantage of it. Another challenge is the access of the technology to that group of the population that either doesn’t have access to broadband services or the equipment to make use of the new technologies.
‘The challenges are created by consumer preference. The answer is the better use of technology. We just have to learn how to better use it and how to better introduce it to the consumer.’
Top Philosophies and Core Values in Business
Integrity is huge today, professionalism is huge. The consumer, as well as RCM leaders, are looking to have a conversation or dialogue with someone that knows the challenges on both sides of the equation – the patient side as well as the revenue cycle leader side.
The revenue cycle process is a continuous circle. There are dozens of steps and dozens of pathways depending on what happens in that revenue cycle process as it relates to what happens next in the life cycle of that process. It has become its own ecosystem which requires integration from both sides to work well.
Two Key Learnings Over the Years
- Always have an open mind.
George says that it is important for people to realize that they may not be as smart as they think they are. That there are people probably a lot more savvy and those are the people one can learn from if they are willing to reach out and learn from their experiences.
‘I am always in my mind playing the what if – what if I do it this way or what if I do it that way, what are the benefits, what are the consequences of doing it one way or the other. I want to make sure I have all the information available that is out there to be able to make informed decisions.’
- Rely on your people
The people on the team are the ones that can bring the greatest value to a conversation. George believes in looking for those people within the organization that may be the next leaders and giving them the ability to grow and learn, to make decisions and, the opportunity to succeed.
Vision For Future of the RCM Industry
George expects a continuation of the consolidations and mergers currently occurring within the healthcare industry. With that also comes the continual challenge of being able to meet the capacity needs of those providers and the rise in the technologically-based method of communications with patients.
From the service provider side, George believes the challenges in terms of how to best meet that patient or a consumer where it is most convenient for them is likely to continue. There is a lot of competition for the dollar and an individual’s healthcare account is often at the bottom of a lot of their list when it comes to who gets paid. One of the keys to overcoming that according to George is better educating the patient at the point of service as well as through the entire revenue cycle process as to their responsibility.
‘We have got to work together from a service provider side, a provider side, as well as a payer side to educate that consumer on what are the real benefits of their healthcare plan. ’
Automation in ARM Functions
Talking about automation in ARM industry, George states that companies are moving to technology-based communication strategies through the use of text, email, chat and web-based applications in an attempt to meet the consumer at the time and place most convenient for them.
In the ARM industry, there are several challenges created by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the new debt collection regulations coming about from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is important to find the harmony between those rules and regulations and the technologies available for optimal functionality.
Leadership Lessons Learned Over the Years
George states that it is important to believe in people and give them the opportunity to grow and to achieve the things they want to achieve.
Another life lesson and value is to always be grateful and thankful for the people that helped you through life. Finally, be a person of integrity, be honest.
‘If you mess up, you mess up, be honest about it. Have a plan in place on how you can resolve or how you can repair the situation.’