3 Ways to Improve Conversion of PDF and Image Files

It can be argued that a large percentage of hospitals and medical facilities are using technology decades behind present-day patient and billing management systems. Agency owners are reminded of that debate every month when their new business file is once again delivered in a PDF file or even worse, a scanned image format. The painstaking process of manually entering every account and patient record resumes. Inefficiencies aside, the element of human error is ever-present and the probability of it is very high. It will not take much for someone to mistype a patient account number, procedure code, patient balance or some other critical data element. When asking your client for an electronically formatted final, you are left with a response something like, “we are working on it” or simply “no.” What else can be done?

A simple Internet search will result in a seemingly endless list of options. It’s not likely you will find a solution that works or more importantly, works for your use case. Essentially, the options fall into three different categories, which are listed and detailed below. If you are not lucky enough to stumble upon the perfect solution, consult with your end users and IT staff or vendor to understand the process of getting the data from the unstructured format into the collection software. This type of conversation will help direct you to the most logical path.

First

The most ideal option is working directly with the PDF or image file to electronically extract the data. This method does not mean the task can be completed without additional software. Rather, it means working with the raw file (source of the data). One positive attribute of the PDF or image file is that is has structure. This is obvious because it most cases, you can see it. The picture is clearly organized into columns and rows, usually with headings and summaries as well. Copy and paste is a common mistake. Any structure that was there is immediately corrupted. This lack of structure makes it tough to make sense of the data and you may have unknowingly lost some data during the transition.

Second

The first option assumes you discovered some out of the box software that accurately reads the image file you are working with. There is a second option very much like the first, but involves a completely custom software application to understand and parse the image file. This is going to require a skilled IT staff or services from an outside vendor. With careful analysis of the image file to identify regular patterns, splits, and trends, technologies such as Java or Python can be used to identify and accurately extract the data fields into a more structured and workable format. Many custom developed applications will output to HTML or XML. This is often easier than trying to move data directly from the image file to Excel or CSV. This output of the data becomes the new source for further processing or for electronically loading into your collection software.

Third

A more extreme option involves utilizing features of next generation tools which may otherwise be of no use to you. (If these tools are of use to you, it is likely in another division of the business so if you are part of a large organization, check with other departments because they may have something you can utilize.) Big Data technology, like Hadoop, is designed for extremely large datasets and robust environments, uncommon in most agencies, but may have features for reducing image files to understand and extract the data fields. Similarly, some Business Intelligence (BI) tools have features for reading PDF or image file sources, identifying the structure, and accurately extracting the data. For example, one of the latest releases of Tableau contains such features. If you opt for this route, there is a good chance you will find some other cool features and potential use cases for the Big Data or BI technology.

Finding a way to electronically manage PDF and image files is critical. It greatly improves operational efficiency and reduces the risk of human error. An element I haven’t even touched on involves culture and the work environment. In probably all cases, those performing the manual work to key new account and patient information into the system are likely not doing the work they were hired to do and are not doing work that is more rewarding, both personally and for the company. I hope you make it a priority to create an exciting and more productive environment through the elimination of manual processes.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor

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Does Business Intelligence Matter?

Most agencies have data scattered amid many different systems. The standard setup likely includes some combination of the collection software, a sales or CRM system, an accounting system, a payment portal, a client access website and a reporting factory. The technology for accessing data across many systems has grown tremendously in recent years. Business intelligence (BI) is everywhere right now, yet many agencies are not interested or they are somewhat interested but not enough to jump in. I have witnessed agencies lose clients solely due to lacking BI. I have also witnessed agencies win clients, they had no business signing, only because they displayed top-tier BI with excellent reporting and dashboarding.

It is not difficult to get started with BI and if your company is not doing anything, you are missing out on some quick productivity gains. Top performing companies are 5% more productive and 6% more profitable with data-driven business intelligence.

It is imperative to note that I am specifically referencing datadriven BI. This is where you want to be as a company because self-reliance is achieved and insight into the real business performance and trends is quickly accessible. The truth is only 8% of companies are benefiting from data-driven BI. The rest are making critical business decisions using opinion-based BI. This is the traditional method of BI where the same critical business decisions are made using outdated data, uncompromising reports, or nothing other than how you believe the business is performing.

Great, so how can the regular credit card collection agency move from opinion-based BI to data-driven BI?

The excellent news is that you already have the data! The rest is primarily intangible. The one tangible piece includes the introduction of BI technology and data standardization. There are hundreds of BI tools available. For many of them, it is merely a matter of due diligence in selecting a tool to move forward with because a hosted or cloud instance is almost always an option. Some BI tools I like and have seen a lot of are Tableau, Microsoft Power BI and IBM Cognos.

Obtaining a new BI tool does not have to, and probably should not, include standing up a new environment with servers, firewalls, switches, and so on. During the BI technology due diligence process, you should be thinking about data standardization as well. Data standardization is the art of getting all your data, regardless of systems or where the data originates, into an accessible and workable format. In the case of BI, it usually means achieving integration with all data sources and capturing all or most of the business critical data in a central repository, such as a data warehouse.

The intangibles for adopting BI are arguably more important than the tangibles. Even with the best BI technology and data standards in place, a successful adoption of BI must include a change in people and the way people think about data. The conventional experience involves a request for a report, usually a ticket is created, the ticket is assigned to IT, and IT builds the report. This takes both time and resources. Even when the report gets in the hands of the requestor, there is often a question about the data or a change to the way the data is presented. The request, ticketing and IT process repeats.

This experience is unpleasant for all involved because the business is not getting what they need, IT does not understand what the business wants and the speed for delivery on each iteration is too slow. The experience improves with a greater collaboration between business and IT. This naturally occurs when the two groups spend more time together going over requirements and presentation options. But what if the two groups were both working in the BI toolset? Let’s advance to BI and analytics that may be significant for agencies. Ask yourself the following sample questions to direct your thought process.

  • In which state or geographic region is my agency the most successful?
  • How much better am I compared to the next most successful state or region?
  • Based on my historical numbers, can I forecast the next three months? Six months? Year?
  • What is my level of certainty with those forecast numbers?

Now consider your staff, clients, and partners.
• Does my staff have the tools they need to answer the same four questions above?

  • If my clients or partners saw my current BI and reporting process, they would think ________.

There are endless thought processes that can help you introduce a better BI practice at your agency. You must break through traditional thinking to be successful. Agencies that promote self-reliance and empower users at all levels by giving them access to work with the data will be successful moving from an opinion-based organization to a data-driven organization.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor