Joseph Koons has done what many might consider the impossible. He created a healthcare billing system people go out of their way to compliment.
“It just doesn’t happen very often when patients say, ‘This is a great bill! Thank you for billing me,’” Koons says. “But now we have patients saying it’s easier, it’s quick, and it’s convenient.”
Koons serves as the senior vice president and chief revenue officer of LifeBridge Health, a regional healthcare organization based in and around Baltimore. In this role, he managed what he describes as a complete, holistic transformation of the organization’s billing process. Prior to his start in spring 2020, LifeBridge Health had multiple customer call centers for billing and financial assistance, resulting in inconsistent forms of patient billing. To address this, he and his team began the process of consolidating the patient billing process.
Patients now have one call center, where they can access standardized messaging and payment plans, as well as get answers to questions. The billing system also has gone digital, with a centralized patient portal, and the ability to receive paperless statements via email or text. Looking forward, LifeBridge Health teams will further develop a digital front door so patients can check in for their appointments on their smart device prior to arrival. It’s all a part of LifeBridge Health’s plan to help patients access consistent, convenient, consolidated information about billing and patient intake.
When surveyed on their billing satisfaction, patients have time and again given LifeBridge Health a 4.4 out of 5. “The whole project has been a tremendous success, not only for the health system, but for patients as well,” he says.
In his more than twenty-five years working on the front, middle, and back end of the healthcare revenue cycle, Joseph Koons worked in Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and now Maryland. “We are hoping this will be the last move,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s worked to my advantage and the advantage of the healthcare systems, because I’ve experienced different systems and learned what works and what doesn’t.”
Though Koons moved around, his commitment to his community of patients and colleagues remained.
When it comes to the former, Koons promotes the philanthropic initiatives of LifeBridge Health to support their patients requiring financial assistance or lacking insurance. As a part of the consolidation project, there is now one centralized eligibility process; extended payment plan options; and standardized support available to help patients navigate their healthcare costs, medication assistance, food assistance, housing assistance, and more.
“That’s important to us, because all of it is important to the patient’s recovery,” he says.
As for his colleagues, he strives to foster a supportive, empowering, participatory work environment, where employees feel comfortable enough to challenge him and empowered enough to make decisions. Much of his leadership philosophy revolves around lifting up good work, rather than being critical of the bad. When you focus on negative behaviors, he says, you highlight that behavior and will be left with more of the same. “I have seen in my career that focusing more on good behavior and positive outcomes will perpetuate itself,” he says.
Though Joseph Koons is at the helm of improving the billing experiences of patients at LifeBridge Health, he is quick to give the credit to his team. “They are the ones that do the work,” he says. “They achieve the results. I provide the support.”
The honesty and humility that accompanies this kind of employee recognition comprises a key part of Koons’s mission to cultivate “diversity of thought.” When his team members can showcase their various areas of expertise, he says that results in the best solutions for patients. “If I come to the table as a senior vice president and already have come to a conclusion, then I’m stifling that conversation,” he says.
If he were to do that, he says he would be holding back LifeBridge Health. “The organization will suffer because we won’t get the best outcome that comes from putting our years of experience together.” Not to mention his team, as well. “They’re not going to be as forthcoming,” he says. “They’re going to get demoralized, and I’ll likely end up losing talent.”
Of course, Koons, like any leader, does not want to lose talent, but it is crucial to him not to lose team morale. While the finance department dedicates most of their day to dealing with serious issues and tasks, maintaining high spirits is a tenet of Koons’s servant leadership style. It manifests in the form of holiday parties, Halloween costume contests, sponsored lunches, and the like. In a serious business like healthcare, these lighthearted events bring people together and promote candid conversations that build stronger teams.
“Finding time to have fun and laugh is beneficial to everyone when we get back to doing the important work that we do,” Joseph Koons says.