10 tips to optimize your patient intake forms
Here’s how too many healthcare providers create a patient intake form: They do a web search for “patient intake form,” find one that’s relatively close towards their needs and, if the form allows, perform a few edits. The result is usually a pieced-together, barely relevant document that doesn’t help either the provider or a patient very much.
A patient intake form is designed to increase the efficiency of your practice and . The forms — customized to your operations as needed — are critical to a well-functioning office. If you use smart forms, they’ll become useful tools that collect all of the information you need, saving you time and other resources and positively contributing to the patient’s overall experience and satisfaction.
First, your forms need to ask for basic information, like their name, date of birth, age, sex, contact information, emergency contact, employer, and insurance information. You need to know why they’ve come to the office and what symptoms they are experiencing. Finally, ask how the patient learned about your practice or business. Use this information to enhance your marketing efforts.
Once you have the standard elements, optimize your forms so they provide exceptional value and enhance your patients’ experiences.
1. Add your branding
Intake forms are another opportunity for customers to interact with your brand. If the patient is seeing you for the first time, this is an important touch point. “It turns out that branding your practice has some very tangible rewards. People will happily pay more for a brand than for a generic alternative,” says Stewart Gandolf of Healthcare Success. To add a professional touch to your intake forms, add your business’ branding.
Make sure the form is consistent with the styling you use on your website and in your office. Add a custom header with your logo or an image that represents your brand. This will create a seamless patient experience and help patients immediately recognize your practice in the future.
You should also add a custom message to the top of the form that thanks the patient for their time and gives them basic instructions. Even if you use the same message for every form, this personalizes the experience for the patient and helps them understand that you respect their time.
2. Ask for insurance information
It’s smart to help ensure that your patients can pay for their visit before they arrive for their appointment. Most people pay all or the bulk of their charges with healthcare with insurance, so you should validate their information as soon as you can. If you discover they don’t have insurance or their insurance doesn’t cover your care, you should alert the patient or, if you don’t make suitable arrangements in that contact, cancel the appointment if necessary.
If you use an online intake form, you’ll have the patient’s responses and can check their coverage (if any) before any patient contact may be necessary. Run their insurance information and, if needed, contact the patient if there are any issues. This way you help ensure you’ll get paid, the patient doesn’t have any surprises, and/or you don’t waste an appointment slot.
If you use paper intake forms, this benefit simply doesn’t apply. It can’t.
3. Require e-Signatures
An e-signature is a method of signing a document electronically. Many places in the world accept e-signatures as legally binding (and they’re HIPAA– and PIPEDA-compliant). Have your patients sign their documents and release forms with a signature so you don’t have to make any requests of them when they arrive for their appointment.
4. Use online forms in the reception area
This is an unusual strategy, but it’s extremely effective. If your patients fail to complete their forms before their appointment, offer a tablet or other easy-to-use check-in device so they can fill out their forms on your website from the reception area.
This has two important benefits:
- It keeps all of your forms together so you don’t have to hunt them down in multiple places
- It introduces your patients to the concept of handling their forms online. When they make their next appointment, they won’t hesitate to follow the link you send because they’ll know the process is easy.
(Setting up intakeQ online forms on your mobile device is simple.)
5. Send from your email address
If you send emails to your patients with links to online forms, make sure the “from” field is populated with your company’s email address. Online form applications use a default email address that you should change.
Using your own email address makes the patient familiar with your company…one to which they can reply if they have questions or need assistance with the form. So when they see that address in the future, they’ll open your emails because they know it’s not spam and that something pertinent to them from their healthcare provider is inside.
6. Use conditional logic
Conditional logic (or ) is when you tie questions to the answers of previous questions. A question can be hidden or shown depending on how the user answered another question.
Let’s say you ask the question “Do you smoke?” If the patient answers “Yes,” you’d want to ask “How long have you been smoking?” But if the patient answers “No” to the first question, asking them how long they’ve been a smoker isn’t appropriate. Even if you offer a “Does not apply” option, you’re still forcing the patient to respond to an irrelevant question.
Instead, link the second question to the first. The question “How long have you been smoking” should only appear if they answer that they are a smoker.
Obviously, this isn’t possible with paper forms. On paper, you have to ask every question you can, regardless if it’s relevant to that particular case. Paper forms also require the patient to write their name, date of birth and date of form completion on the top of every form. This all causes intake forms to be much longer than they need to be, and typically makes patients impatient, unhappy and less likely to return.
7. Include an open-ended question
The last question you ask should be open ended (such as “Is there anything else you would like us to know?”) so the patient can provide any information they feel is important, but didn’t fit into one of the earlier questions. In all likelihood, most patients will leave this blank, but the ones who fill it out can provide valuable information.
8. Customize your forms based on patient segments
It’s likely you see different kinds of patients who have different needs. For instance, a nutritionist sees many patients who are looking to lose weight, but also patients who are looking to gain weight.
An article in Frontiers in Public Health explained that patient segmentation is based on patient characteristics only. “It’s usually based on the following elements: the assessment, definition and operationalisation of population or patient characteristics that are related to healthcare needs, outcomes aimed at when addressing population or patient needs, and the segmentation logic expressing how subpopulations, or patient groups are formed.”
Create different intake forms for each group of patients you serve. Customize the forms so you get all of the information you need to provide maximum value to the patient at the first appointment. Depending on the patient’s needs, whomever sets the appointment can send the proper form.
Further, if you ever come across a special case that requires additional information, with easily edited online forms, you can quickly create a custom form for that patient so they supply you with everything you need. Copy questions you need from other forms and add your own.
Customization like this greatly improves the customer’s experience. By supplying you with all the information you need, you are better equipped to treat them faster. The patient also feels like you care about their specific circumstances.
(Customizing forms is far easier when you use online intake forms, otherwise you’ll spend hours messing with PDFs or spend a fortune on a designer.)
9. Send revisit forms
If a patient is returning for an additional visit, there’s no need to have them fill out the same intake form again (and again). Patients typically find that especially irritating. Instead, send a revisit form.
A revisit form is a supplementary form for current patients. This form skips the basic information (because you have it already) and only questions about the medical condition. For instance, you might ask “Has your condition responded to your prescribed medication?” or “What is your current weight?” This keep the healthcare provider updated without taking too much of the patient’s time.
Include conditional logic that gives the patient an opportunity to adjust information you already have. Ask “Has your contact or billing information changed?” (That often happens as of Jan. 1 of each year, though they can change insurance plans at other times.) If they respond “Yes,” fields can appear to enter their new information.
10. Include a disclaimer
Add a disclaimer to the bottom of your intake form right above the signature line. This helps patients be aware of what working with your practice entails, and smooths over any future disagreements.
The exact contents of your disclaimer will change depending on your practice, your industry and your state’s laws, but generally they say something like this:
“The above information is accurate to the best of my knowledge. I authorize [your name or business name here] to bill my insurance provider. I understand that I am responsible for any remaining balance.”
Of course, you’ll want to customize the disclaimer based on your needs.
Once you’ve optimized your intake forms, send them in confidence. You know you’re doing everything you can to improve the patient experience, expedite patient flow, and provide better care.