It has taken Medicare awhile to connect all the dots, but the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) is going to impact the way healthcare providers are paid. In lieu of volume, reimbursement will be based on treatment outcome and quality of care. Make no mistake, a patient registration process laden with bottlenecks will negatively impact patient care and your practice’s revenue.
Understanding the metrics of success are important, especially in a medical practice environment. In healthcare today, unfortunately, we often find that the whole is often less than the sum of its parts. While some aspects of a practice may be functioning smoothly and productively, others are sub-par.
The spoken word is a powerful force. From the onset of the physician/patient dynamic, the manner in which a patient is greeted sets the perceived tone of the professional relationship, and perception becomes reality.
As a rule, the lowest paid, and usually the most recently employed person, is the first contact a patient has with a practice. When a telephone call is answered by a canned voice asking them to be patient and wait for the next available staffer, the perception is that your office is too busy to give them the attention they want and need.
It Is a Team Effort and Words Count
An integrated team begins with the person who greets the patient. It is important that staffers know everyone who interacts with a patient and/or their family. Words should have energy and empathy. “Good morning,” “Welcome, we have been expecting you,” “Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable while you wait?” “May we assist you in filling out these forms?” are words that are huge drivers of patient satisfaction.
With the aging of America, there is a distinctive demographic shift. Physicians, especially in specialty practices, are treating more and more elderly patients. This alone creates a challenge in maintaining productivity while giving stellar patient care.
Revenue is directly proportional to productivity. Every single component of the intake process impacts productivity and the intake process is multi-faceted. When the team fully understands the dynamics of each segment of the intake process, everybody wins.
Identify Your Bottlenecks
The key to optimal patient flow is data automation. Collecting new patient data (demographics, medical history, insurance information), and merging them into established databases allows providers to validate insurance and develop treatment plans prior to a patient’s first appointment. By streamlining administrative tasks, patients are seen by the care provider sooner and a seamless patient flow is established.
Office layout is important on every level. The counter height at the reception station is an integral part of the design element. The visitor side of the reception counter requires easy accessibility in order to efficiently complete a transaction. The most ergonomic height for an average-sized person is 36 inches.
Keep the check-in and check-out locations separate if possible. This design touches on the HIPAA regulations and prevents incoming patients from hearing discussions concerning insurance coverage or balances due. In addition, checking out generally takes longer than checking in.
When possible, engage patients from the get-go. Delegate the tasks related to intake (entering demographic information, verifying insurance eligibility, paying co-pays and balances, completing health-related assessments) to the patients. With increased patient participation, the intake process improves efficiency and increases collections.
Surveys have shown that people like using technology and they’re increasingly open to using digital tools to increase communication, access their health information and be part of the decision-making process.
When non-visit-related tasks (refill requests, phone calls and scheduling) are managed by the front desk, patient intake flow is slowed down. An EHR can improve patient flow, as will dedicating one staff member, with no additional responsibilities, for intakes.
Provide online registration.
Allow patients to download initial visit questionnaires from the practice website and fax them in. This reduces the time spent filling out paperwork in the reception area.
Mobile messaging strategies can streamline the intake process. Send appointment reminders, offsite check-in forms, policy and procedure information, and procedure prep instructions to a patient’s smartphone. This will reduce errors, lessen the strain on administrative staff and give patients an opportunity to communicate with the office. This saves labor time as well as being a cost savings, and can drastically reduce the number of daily no-shows.
Set up a kiosk.
Some EMR systems provide a kiosk option. This can be especially useful for practices with a large geriatric patient base. Utilizing an in-office tablet or computer screen allows staff members to assist those non-tech-savvy patients complete forms and questionnaires. However, findings from the Pew Research Center indicates that 59% of people over age 65 are using the internet, so office staff assistance may be minimal.
Benefits of a Patient Portal
Embrace this technology and assign a staffer to introduce your patients to the features available through your portal. Make certain that it is user-friendly to facilitate continued patient use.
- Staff will spend less time on data entry
- You can focus on the patient, not on the registration process
- Staff will spend less time on the phone with patients
Streamlining the onboarding process for new patients is a key challenge for a medical practice. Empowered patient initiatives are highly efficient and they increase profitability. The cost of scheduling an appointment via a portal is a fraction of an appointment made by telephone. Similarly, if a patient makes a payment through the portal, no one has to open the envelope, scan the check or prepare a bank deposit. This is a win-win all the way around.
How does a better intake process impact your patient?
- Less time spent in the reception room
- Patients can complete forms when it is convenient for them
- Patients can complete forms from wherever they choose
How it is beneficial for your practice?
- Eliminate costs for printing, scanning and shredding
- Ability to review intake forms prior to appointments
- Better legibility
- Increased patient satisfaction
Optimizing patient flow will make measurable positive changes in your practice. If you have questions about patient intake procedures, contact our experts at Advantage Administration, Inc.