Notwithstanding the noble goals of helping people reach and maintain the best possible health, let’s face it — healthcare is a business. It has to be, to keep serving your customers. And, like all businesses, you want and need to constantly improve its efficiency. An efficient healthcare business treats more patients, provides higher-quality care while delivering greater satisfaction, and makes more money, more quickly.
Through technology, you can streamline your processes and take everyday jobs off of the plate of you and your entire team. Instead of spending time on endless paperwork, rummaging through files and calendars or performing tedious tasks, you can spend your resources doing what you do best: treating patients well)
Automation isn’t just about making money. A study of Texas hospitals in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that increased automation of healthcare records and processes resulted in a reduction of costs, complications and deaths.
And by automating these tasks, you can create a better patient experience and optimize your productivity — all of which leads to more (and more positive) online reviews.
1. Intake forms
For many practices, intake forms are their biggest headache. Even when your patients arrive for their appointments on time, they still have several minutes of paperwork to complete — and not happily — before you can see them.
You try to schedule appointments to account for this, but there are too many opportunities for delays. Perhaps the patient has to call their spouse to answer a question, or they have to look up the names, strength and frequency of all of the medications they’re taking.
Most practices absolutely require that breadth and depth of patient information before they can optimally begin consultation, testing or treatment. With online forms completed before the appointment vs. in-office paper forms, you have the potential to be ready before they walk in the door. Intake is done and this critical information is already contained in the patient’s electronic health record and your practice-management system.
For instance, a nutritionist can’t provide much value to the patient until they learn of the patient’s current health situation, and the medical events and history that led up to it. If the nutritionist had known about the patient’s condition before the appointment, they could have come prepared for the visit with potential treatment plans or answers to pertinent questions.
Some providers recognize that having patients complete their intake forms before the appointment improves their efficiency, but they have a limited-function, archaic system that doesn’t provide significant support. Often the best they can do is to direct patients to a page on their website that has downloadable forms. Patients are told to download, print, complete — often by hand, endless page after page — and then bring the forms with them to the appointment.
They don’t like it much…if at all…and it doesn’t represent such a practice as a leader in delivering 21st century care.
Plus, after all of that work by patients to hand-complete forms, heaven forbid they forget to bring the completed forms, which are still sitting on their counter at home (which too-often happens). Then they must complete the forms all over again in the office, where they probably don’t have immediate access to the information they need to do so.
Whether partially their fault or not, the frustration and time delay of re-doing handwritten forms doesn’t exactly improve their satisfaction, your ability to compose your thoughts in advance of their visit, your reputation as a modern practice, nor your ability to stick to your day’s schedule. So that could mean a whole day’s worth of patients are forced to wait longer, lowering their satisfaction as well. In addition, the forms are rarely customizable by patient or case type, so you can’t easily add a pertinent question or other field as appropriate. Even downloadable, ending up with paper forms at the time of the patient’s visit is just NOT GOOD for patients and provider teams alike.
We — and our customers — know the value of adding automation to your process by using digital intake forms that are fully integrated with your EHR/PM main systems. Online intake forms can be sent directly to a patient, particularly a new one without portal access yet, once an appointment is scheduled. If the forms are clear and easy to complete, patients are highly likely to follow the process because it’s fast and intuitable, without being duplicative. Once forms are finalized, the information they capture is automatically returned to the healthcare provider and stored electronically — as well as available immediately and remotely — as part of their records.
With the information from the online forms available ahead of time, the healthcare provider(s) and administrative team can — to borrow a motto from the Boy Scouts of America — be prepared. Clinical staff might have time to review certain medical material and prepare questions to ask the patient. Admin staff can verify insurance so there are no last-minute surprises of a lack of coverage, or of co-pays and deductibles you expect to collect on the day of service. That all translates to happier patients and improved cash flow.
2. Appointment reminders
To this day, patient no-show rates have been a big problem in healthcare, and the COVID-19 pandemic has almost doubled the problem the last few years…from an average 18 to 36%. When asked, patients say they fail to show up to appointments due to their own forgetfulness or poor process on the part of the practice (no convenient appointments available, changes without notification, and a failure to be reminded…and reminded) in a timely fashion and manner, among other reasons or excuses.
A peer-reviewed article published in mid-2020 in the National Institutes of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine highlights a study’s findings on the impact of patient no-shows on service quality. It also makes the point that not only will your practice lose revenue from that now-empty, last-minute opening on your schedule, some of those patients won’t get around to rescheduling. Their health may end up suffering, and they can end up in a hospital Emergency Department or urgent-care center before they have a chance to reschedule…if they ever do. This drives up industry healthcare costs, clogs already overflowing EDs and, fair or not, often leads back to patients blaming you for not keeping a steady flow of reminders and other communications flowing.
Bottom line: Patients are busy, and forgetful. So it’s clear that if you want to reduce your no-show rate and improve the care services you provide, you simply must remind your patients about their appointments. This is a necessary part of running of a successful healthcare business, but if it’s done manually, it’s also tedious, time-consuming and cumulatively expensive.
Unfortunately, too many practices stick to what they know…still sending reminders the old-fashioned, low-tech way. They hand-write or print mailers they send through the Postal Service. While these seem professional, they require the post office to deliver to the correct and current address, and the patient to check their mail in a timely manner. Both of those conditions are increasingly rare. Plus, over time, the practice’s postage and printing costs add up to be a higher cost line on their balance sheet — while still not achieving any improvement in show rates.
Phone calls are another traditional patient-contact method, but they require the patient to answer an unknown number — which in this era of scam calls, people are increasingly hesitant to do — or check their voicemail. After the phone call, the patient doesn’t have a record of the reminder to check at a later time.
Both of these methods cost you hours in labor each week, and have little positive impact. To reduce the human resources spent on these tasks, some offices only send reminders for longer appointments, or appointments with costly treatments. But ideally you want to remind every patient about every appointment. That way, your staff’s time isn’t wasted, and patients waiting for an open slot on your schedule can be served sooner. And, oh yes…higher revenue comes in your door.
Fortunately, sending reminders is easy to automate. There are numerous appointment-reminder systems, including intakeQ’s, that contact patients in various ways. Emails, SMS/text messages and pre-recorded voice messages can be easily customized and automated with cloud-based IT solutions. You can automatically send any or all of these reminders or let your patients decide in which manner they prefer to be contacted.
3. Patient charting
Traditionally, healthcare providers spend a significant part of every day (a third or more!) transferring their notes into patient charts. The point of the charts is to standardize the recording process so they can quickly be reviewed at a later date by that provider or an authorized another.
Electronic health records (EHR or EMR), however, have changed everything, for medical and dental providers, allied health professionals and more. Instead of transferring information from patient notes into a digital format, it’s faster and simpler to document straight into the EHR and its integrated practice-management system.
You’ll need special hardware and software to streamline your process, but both are worth the investment. With a rolling workstation or handheld tablet, providers can move between patients and appointments with all of their tools on hand. As they intake information from patients, they input it directly into the system. There are countless applications (including customizable solutions) that organize questions and notes for quick selecting, rather than typing or writing.
Instead of spending the last hour or two of their day transferring notes, providers can continue seeing patients or use that time to work on growing the business.
4. Appointment scheduling
In an apt statement in an earlier study report, University of Minnesota clinicians noted that “Appointment scheduling systems lie at the intersection of efficiency and timely access to health services.” By implementing an efficient scheduling process, healthcare providers can grow their business and help improve patient care and satisfaction scores and online reviews. When it’s all said and done, scheduling an appointment is as simple as finding a time that works for both you and the patient. Your schedule rarely changes (because it’s set by other appointments), so the patient is the only party that has to make a decision.
In fact, industry studies have reported that on average, it takes eight minutes on the phone to make an appointment, with 30% of that time typically spent on hold. Eight minutes is a long time just to pick an appointment date, time and, sometimes, location. Over time, that’s a lot of wasted labor for you…and a lot of dissatisfaction for your patients (or prospective patients).
Thus, it makes sense to give the patient an option to schedule an appointment that doesn’t require your involvement. As long as you set the parameters of the process (availability times, services, etc.), patients can slot themselves into the times you leave available.
Set up a feature on your website that integrates with your business’ booking calendar. When a patient schedules (or makes a request to schedule) an appointment online, that can in some instances be immediately filled held on your calendar so it can’t be double-booked by you or your staff.
Not all patients will use these methods. For many people, there’s a personal component of healthcare that can’t be neglected. Continue to accept over-the-phone scheduling, but make your patients aware of the online option. Many will appreciate the convenience.
intakeQ offers an online booking feature that can be positioned on your website. It automatically sends intake form packages, syncs with a free Google calendar, accepts all major credit cards, and offers significant customization options.
Keep in mind that automation doesn’t just save you time and money today. It will help enable your patients’ satisfaction (and their positive online reviews) to rise, and word will spread that your practice operates in a convenient manner. Small changes today can lead to big changes tomorrow.
If you’re ready to add automation to your processes, please speak with us, or sign up for a free, no-obligation 14-day free trial of our intakeQ™ online forms and integrated practiceQ™ practice-management solution.