One of the burdens of operating any type of healthcare business is the tremendous amount of information you are expected to collect and manage. Even small practices with single healthcare providers can find themselves buried under hefty files for each patient. A fair percentage of those files include patient intake forms.

Intake forms are necessary, but cumbersome and tedious – especially for first-time patients. Depending on the type of care you provide, your forms might be quite extensive.

Intake forms also burden the patient experience. A patient may be tired, rushed, worried, insecure, or ill. They are rarely in the right state of mind to answer medical questions. Patients often can’t answer many questions on the spot. Who can remember the exact type of cancer their uncle had or the name of the allergy medication they used to take?

On top of all that, the process most offices use is downright archaic.

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The Old Intake Form Process

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Source: TheeErin/Flickr

I say “old method” but that isn’t entirely accurate. This is the method that most healthcare providers are still using today. Even the largest and most well-funded hospitals in the country have failed to modernize their practice.

You’ve probably seen this system before, or maybe you’re currently using it yourself.

  1. Patient schedules an appointment with a healthcare provider.
  2. The scheduler emails the patient a link to a web page. (Sometimes they don’t even do this part. If an appointment is made over the phone, the scheduler may just instruct the patient to find the right section on their website.)
  3. The patient downloads intake forms from the web page. Typically these are PDFs, but I’ve seen Word documents used as well.
  4. The patient prints out the form (using their own printer and ink).
  5. The patient brings the form to the appointment.

That process is filled with possibilities for failure. Five steps seems simple when you write them down, but it’s a lot to ask of your customers.

First, don’t expect many people to navigate to your website unless you specifically give them a link. Most people assume their job is done once they’ve scheduled an appointment. The information you need before you can provide treatment is your problem. It’s tough to convince people to go out of their way to help you, especially when they are paying you.

Second, many people are rightfully suspicious about downloading files off websites. Even if they don’t think their healthcare provider would intentionally infect their computer, you never know what malicious files are floating around.

Third, many people don’t have printers at home these days. With the ease of transferring files and storing information on cloud services, printers are falling out of style. Plus, the cost of ink has risen. If your forms require five or six pages (possibly with dense consent information), your patients won’t spend their ink.

The final obstacle is the hardest to overcome. If there’s any gap between the time the appointment is set and the actual appointment, there’s a good chance the patient will forget to bring those forms. Even if the patient managed to find your forms, print and fill them out, there’s still a good chance you’ll never see them.

A break anywhere in this process means the patient will end up completing their forms in your waiting room, delaying other patients and congesting your schedule. You can either…

  • Plan for these delays, in which case you won’t be able to schedule as many patients in the day
  • Schedule tightly, assuming everyone will bring in their forms. The first person who doesn’t will create congestion in your whole day.

Either way you lose.

The New Process: Online Intake Forms

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Online intake forms are better for everyone; healthcare providers, their staff, and most importantly, patients. The process is far simpler than the old method.

  1. Patient schedules an appointment with a healthcare provider.
  2. The scheduler emails the patient a link to a form.
  3. Patient fills out the form.

That’s it. Upon submitting the form, you’ll have all of their intake information, immediately accessible. No one has to bring forms to the appointment and you won’t have to check that everything is complete.

Patients Love Completing Their Intake Forms Online

Patients like the new process because it doesn’t ask much. They receive the link in their email, so they can fill out the form at any time. They click through your questions, hit submit, and that’s the end of their involvement.

In fact, we’ve heard in the past that some patients fill out the form so quickly after scheduling their appointment that they forget about it entirely. Come appointment day, they are surprised that there’s nothing to fill out in the waiting room and that the healthcare provider already has answers to basic questions.

All in all, it’s a nice surprise for your patients. They’re seen quicker (because the healthcare provider isn’t held back by people filling out forms) and anytime they do spend waiting is relaxing.

Furthermore, improved patient flow at the office can actually improve care. Coker Group learned that “effective management of patient flow can improve performance of a healthcare organization.”

Healthcare Providers Love Online Intake Forms

The benefits of online intake forms for healthcare providers are numerous as well.

  1. You can schedule more patients in each day.

Using automation like online intake forms helps your office operate at its maximum potential and schedule as many appointments as possible into your day. Obviously you can’t hurry the actual consultation because you don’t want to rush your diagnoses or treatment, but you can speed up your administrative tasks. (However, Texas hospitals have discovered that automation improves care.)

Patients can spend up to 15 minutes filling out intake forms before their appointment. By having the forms completed before the patient ever arrives, you can improve your patient flow and squeeze two or three more patients into each day. That’s more money in your pocket.

  1. You can pre-validate insurance information

Speaking of money, online intake forms make sure you’re paid for your services. There are no insurance surprises after the appointment because you can pre-validate the patient’s insurance information before they ever arrive. If there’s a problem with the insurance, you can notify the patient for a resolution or cancel the appointment. Obviously canceling appointments isn’t ideal, but it’s better than never receiving payment.

  1. Dynamic forms gather more information and reduce the burden on the patient

By creating forms with conditional logic, you can impose only the questions that matter to the patient. For instance, let’s say you ask the question “Is there a history of cancer in your family?” If the patient answers “No,” there’s no reason to ask for more information. If the patient answers “Yes,” additional questions would appear that ask for specifics, like which relative, which types of cancer, and how they were treated.

This dynamic nature helps you gather as much information as possible so you can be prepared for the visit, and lets you remove any questions that don’t apply. Both improve the patient’s experience.

  1. Medical information is kept electronic

If you’re like most modern practices, you’re storing your healthcare records electronically. It’s a smarter way to do business. Online intake forms prevent you from having to transfer paper data into a database system. Everything arrives in a digital format that can be filed with your other records or transferred to your charting system.

Improve the patient experience by making your intake process fast and hassle-free. Download our free guide.

How to Adopt Online Intake Forms

Setting up online intake forms and distributing them to your patients is easier than you would think. You can create your own custom forms or we’re happy to convert your current forms into online versions. The forms can be placed on your website for patients to fill out, or you can send out links. You’ll be notified once the forms are complete so you can review them and add any notes.

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