rcm glossary


Gatekeeper is a term used in healthcare revenue cycle management (RCM) to refer to the individual or system responsible for controlling access to patient information and managing the flow of revenue within the healthcare organization.

Accelerate your revenue cycle

Boost patient experience and your bottom line by automating patient cost estimates, payer underpayment detection, and contract optimization in one place.

Get a Demo

What is Gatekeeper in Healthcare Revenue Cycle Management (RCM)?

In the realm of healthcare revenue cycle management (RCM), the term "gatekeeper" refers to a crucial role played by healthcare providers or insurance companies in controlling access to healthcare services. The gatekeeper acts as a primary point of contact and decision-maker, responsible for managing and coordinating a patient's healthcare journey. This term is often associated with managed care organizations (MCOs) and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) that employ a gatekeeping model to control costs and ensure appropriate utilization of healthcare resources.

The gatekeeper's primary function is to serve as a filter or intermediary between patients and healthcare specialists or facilities. They are typically primary care physicians (PCPs) who are responsible for overseeing and coordinating all aspects of a patient's healthcare, including referrals to specialists, diagnostic tests, and hospital admissions. By acting as a gatekeeper, they help ensure that patients receive the most appropriate and cost-effective care while minimizing unnecessary utilization of healthcare services.

Gatekeeper vs. Similar Terms

While the term "gatekeeper" is commonly used in healthcare RCM, it is important to distinguish it from similar terms that may have overlapping meanings or functions. Let's explore the key differences between gatekeeper, care coordinator, and case manager:

Care Coordinator

A care coordinator is a healthcare professional who assists patients in navigating the complex healthcare system and coordinating their care across various providers and settings. They work closely with patients, families, and healthcare providers to ensure seamless transitions between different levels of care. Unlike gatekeepers, care coordinators do not typically have the authority to make decisions regarding referrals or treatment plans. Instead, they focus on facilitating communication, organizing appointments, and addressing non-medical needs of patients.

Case Manager

A case manager is another healthcare professional who plays a vital role in coordinating and managing a patient's care. They are often employed by hospitals, insurance companies, or other healthcare organizations. Case managers work closely with patients, healthcare providers, and payers to ensure that the patient's healthcare needs are met efficiently and effectively. They may assist with discharge planning, utilization review, and coordination of post-acute care services. While case managers may have some gatekeeping responsibilities, their primary focus is on ensuring continuity of care and optimizing resource utilization.

Examples of Gatekeeper in Healthcare RCM

To better understand the role of gatekeepers in healthcare RCM, let's consider a few examples:

Example 1: Managed Care Organization (MCO)

In a managed care organization, such as an HMO, gatekeepers are typically primary care physicians who serve as the initial point of contact for patients seeking healthcare services. When a patient needs specialized care, the gatekeeper evaluates the medical necessity and appropriateness of the referral. If deemed necessary, the gatekeeper provides a referral to a specialist within the network. This gatekeeping model helps control costs by ensuring that patients receive the most appropriate level of care and avoid unnecessary visits to specialists.

Example 2: Insurance Company

Insurance companies often employ gatekeeping mechanisms to manage healthcare costs and utilization. In this context, gatekeepers may be employed by the insurance company or contracted from a network of healthcare providers. When a patient seeks reimbursement for a specific healthcare service, the gatekeeper reviews the claim to determine if it meets the policy's criteria for coverage. They assess the medical necessity, appropriateness, and adherence to policy guidelines before approving or denying the claim. This gatekeeping function helps insurance companies ensure that only eligible services are reimbursed, preventing fraudulent or unnecessary claims.

Example 3: Accountable Care Organization (ACO)

In an accountable care organization, gatekeepers play a crucial role in coordinating and managing the care of a defined patient population. Gatekeepers, often primary care physicians, are responsible for overseeing the overall health of their assigned patients. They work closely with specialists, hospitals, and other healthcare providers to ensure that patients receive appropriate and coordinated care. Gatekeepers in an ACO may have access to comprehensive patient data, enabling them to make informed decisions about referrals, treatment plans, and resource utilization.

In summary, gatekeepers in healthcare RCM serve as intermediaries between patients and healthcare specialists or facilities. They play a vital role in managing and coordinating a patient's healthcare journey, ensuring appropriate utilization of healthcare resources, and controlling costs. While gatekeepers have similarities with care coordinators and case managers, their primary focus is on making decisions regarding referrals and treatment plans. Understanding the role of gatekeepers is essential for healthcare providers, insurance companies, and patients to navigate the complex healthcare landscape effectively.

Get paid in full by bringing clarity to your revenue cycle

Full Page Background