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Five Strategies to Improve Patient Intake Efficiency

What is the patient intake process?

Patient intake spans a variety of operations wherein healthcare providers gather and organize patient data from their demographic and insurance information to collecting consent forms, reviewing medical history, collecting copays, and much more. All these processes contribute to longer wait times, and it’s important to look at ways to modernize these points of contact.

Longer wait times are a burden for patients and can even stop patients from receiving care: up to 30%[¹] of patients have left a doctor’s office due to the wait time, and 20% would consider changing their providers if it meant shortening the wait.

With long patient wait times being associated with higher dissatisfaction and even worse patient outcomes[²], digitalization is necessary for greatly reducing wait times and streamlining the patient intake process.

Below we discuss the top five strategies to improve patient intake efficiency.

1. Move away from paper strategies to improve patient intake efficiency

The patient intake process is being hindered by healthcare’s reliance on paper. The old method of having patients fill out their medical information on a physical form when they arrive at a clinic or hospital is severely outdated.

Paper forms are a major barrier to transitioning to a virtual care model. Some medical forms can be upwards of 10 pages long.

Paper forms are also prone to error. Patients can often miss key questions or accidentally overlook checking key boxes, and for healthcare providers, it can be difficult to read illegible handwriting, adding unnecessary time and confusion.

Moreover, patient-doctor communication is multifaceted. It’s easy to assume it begins and ends with in-person meetings or consultations, but that doesn’t have to be the case in a digital world. 60%[³]of patients expect providers to communicate about routine healthcare and prevention by texting patients or participating in online chats between appointments.

Everything from disease evaluations, diagnosis, and prognosis to simple logistics like informing patients when there may be a delay in their appointment all contribute to making the patient intake process far more efficient when done digitally. Studies indicate that patients are much more tolerant and less uncertain when their providers communicate delays[⁴].

The clear solution moving forward is utilizing technology such as virtual waiting rooms to navigate the patient intake process.

2. Implement a virtual waiting room

81%[⁵] of healthcare practitioners say the pace of healthcare digital transformation for their organization is accelerating, meaning now is the perfect time to invest in the future and push for the digitalization of the patient intake process. A great strategy moving forward is transitioning towards virtual waiting rooms.

Virtual waiting rooms are a service that can be accessed by patients completely digitally, whether in the form of an app on their phone or through their computers or tablets. It empowers patients to use their own devices to complete self-check-ins, fill out forms, communicate with their providers, and receive instructions before ever stepping foot in a clinic or hospital – and it can be used for virtual consultations as well. Allowing bidirectional patient messaging through virtual waiting rooms would greatly cut down on patient wait times.

Incorporating the use of patient portal software with virtual waiting rooms enables a seamless exchange of data wherein information is updated and uploaded instantly. We know, for instance, patients place a lot of value on the ability to quickly book appointments, as 61%[⁵] of consumers say they would switch providers given that they are able to find appointments easier. Otherwise, those who must still fill out their medical data can take advantage of eForms, forgoing the need to physically be in a clinic or hospital.

Virtual waiting rooms don’t just support better in-office workflows but also virtual visits with telemedicine technology. In order to transition to a virtual care model where virtual care becomes a financially viable form of patient visits, provider groups must inevitably deal with the virtual waiting room technological challenge.

Digital Front Door Platform

3. Integrate with your EHR

A smart patient intake solution should allow patients to fill out forms prior to a visit and have that information automatically updated in a practice’s Electronic Health Record (EHR), Revenue Cycle Management (RCM), or Practice Management (PM) systems.

Systems can be fully customizable which allows practices to simplify their intake process through user-friendly interfaces, making the creation of new forms with discrete data links to the EHR and practice management software, easy.

4. Offer online bill pay

At a time when even physical card payments are becoming obsolete as purchases are often made on phones through online banking apps, it’s up to healthcare providers to jump into digital billing.

Most people have become accustomed to using smartphones for purchases, making paper billing increasingly irrelevant and time-consuming. 83%[⁶] of consumers already prefer electronic payment methods for medical bills. With the high demand for contactless payment, it’s important to offer online payments and have the option to utilize contactless terminals in their offices.

For providers, digital billing is more cost-efficient, potentially reducing 0.4% of operating cost[⁷], as well as reducing the time between patient care and payment. It would allow seamless collections by billing patients directly for those who are paying out of pocket as well as those whose deductibles and insurance have already been processed – information a patient portal could provide automatically.

A more open communication of healthcare costs (such as what insurance is covering versus what the patient actually owes) is in high demand, as 81%[³] of patients feel it would help them manage their financial responsibilities. A digital system is much more conducive to such instant communication rather than cumbersome paper mail.

An online patient payment solution should be available in the healthcare organization’s patient portal, on their website, during the online intake process as well as the option to pay “contactless” at the front desk.

5. Replicate the airline check-in process

The patient check-in process could be improved by replicating the airline industry. Companies like Delta and AirFrance have their own custom mobile apps[⁸] which not only allow customers to check in one or two days before their flight but save information for future check-ins to be completed almost entirely at the time of purchase. By the time customers reach the airport, they can hit the ground running instead of waiting in endless check-in lines.

This can raise concerns for healthcare providers seeing as they prefer to have the most up-to-date health information for their patients and collecting copays might not be ideal as they would have to refund them in the event of a no-show. However, a similar system can still be applied in order to greatly simplify the check-in process.

Both consumers and providers could benefit from a more efficient patient intake process. The above five strategies to improve patient intake efficiency help in reducing wait times, increasing patient satisfaction and retention, and adding autonomy for all those involved.

    1. Heath, S. (2018). Long Appointment Wait Time a Detriment to High Patient Satisfaction. [online] PatientEngagementHIT. Available at: https://patientengagementhit.com/news/long-appointment-wait-time-a-detriment-to-high-patient-satisfaction
    2. Alrasheedi, KF., Al-Mohaithef, M., Edrees, HH., and Chandramohan, S. (2019). The Association Between Wait Times and Patient Satisfaction: Findings From Primary Health Centers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. [online] Europe PMC. Available at: https://europepmc.org/article/PMC/6614942
    3. West Corporation. (n.d.). 10 Ways to Fulfill Patients’ Communication Wish List [online] West Corporation. Available at: https://rb.gy/ggafzs
    4. Chu, H., Westbrook, R.A., Njue-Marendes, S., Giordano, T.P. and Dang, B.N. (2019). The psychology of the wait time experience – what clinics can do to manage the waiting experience for patients: a longitudinal, qualitative study. BMC Health Services Research, [online] 19(1). [online] NCBI. Available at: https://bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12913-019-4301-0
    5. Safavi, K., Thompson, A., Kalis, B., and McHugh, J. (2021). Change Experts at a Moment of Truth. [online] Accenture. Available at: https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-156/Accenture-Digital-Health-Techvision-2021.pdf
    6. Anderson, D. (2020). InstaMed’s Tenth Annual Report Finds High Consumer Demand for Digitization in Healthcare Payments. [online] InstaMed. Available at: https://www.instamed.com/news-and-events/report-finds-high-consumer-demand-for-digitization-healthcare-payments/
    7. Visconti, R., Morea, D. (2020). Healthcare Digitalization and Pay-For-Performance Incentives in Smart Hospital Project Financing. [online] International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7177756/
    8. AltexSoft. (2019). How Airline Industry Streamlines Check-In and Boarding with Digital Self-Services. [online] AltexSoft. Available at: https://www.altexsoft.com/blog/travel/how-airline-industry-streamlines-check-in-and-boarding-with-digital-self-services/
Founder and CEO of Bridge Patient Portal, and business owner of 19 years with extensive experience in Healthcare IT. John is a Judge for the 2020 eHealthcare Leadership Awards and has appeared on multiple podcasts, including the Outcomes Rocket Podcast and the Hospital Finance Podcast.
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