Why Your Intake Forms Need an Automated Workflow

Even after implementing an EMR/EHR system, healthcare practices may still find form management to be a challenge.

In many cases, practices and administrators fail to create workflows for digital processes the same way they did for paper ones.

While electronic records and other digital tools are designed to ease the burden and paper load of certain processes, like client intake, file sharing and note taking, they can’t do everything.

Workflows are essential for collecting and sharing healthcare data effectively. If there is a slowdown in the process – which may be harder to identify if it’s happening digitally – speed of care may be negatively impacted.

That’s why it’s important for healthcare administrators to pay attention to the way forms are being managed, even using an EMR/EHR system. Here’s what to know:

Why Healthcare Form Management is a Challenge

In a traditional business, poor form management can create missed deadlines, angry customers, and profit loss. While those things are also true in the healthcare world, there is something much greater at risk when forms aren’t processed correctly.

Poor form management in healthcare is literally a life or death issue.

EMR/EHR should help mitigate some of that risk by allowing office staff and practitioners to upload, store and share files quickly and easily, without violating HIPAA or patient privacy.

But there are a few challenges with form management that many practices still struggle with, including (but not limited to):

  • Undertraining on EMR/EHR systems – If staff is not properly trained to use the EMR/EHR systems, paperwork may still go missing.
  • Lack of notification – If an email is sent to a patient or another practitioner, is there a confirmation? Who is notified when new files are added, changed or removed?
  • Mixing of paper and electronic forms – If an EMR/EHR system is not fully implemented, paperwork may be lost or mishandled.
  • Poor IT management – Who is in charge when something with the system goes wrong? If there are bottlenecks in the form management process, who would notice?

Healthcare practices may also struggle with how certain EMR/EHR systems handle forms. For instance, are intake forms automatically imported from the website or do they need to be uploaded manually?

If they need to be uploaded manually, who is responsible? If that person is sick or on vacation, who handles intake forms?

Any human or computer error may cause a bottleneck.

In order to prevent this, the best thing for healthcare administrators to do is to first create a workflow map of each form process, and then add automation, either through the EMR/EHR system or a third-party tool.

How to Create a Form Workflow Map

Workflow maps – sometimes called workflow diagrams or flowcharts – are relatively simple to create and can go a long way to helping you understand exactly which actions, roles and responsibilities are part of any task.

Here is an example of a workflow for an annual patient assessment:

(Image source)

The map depicts a series of actions that define how a process should be completed from start to finish, how each task flows into one another, and who is responsible for each step.

Each step in the workflow is typically shown as an abstract shape, like a box. The steps are connected with arrows that indicate the direction of the flow.

Here is a general idea of what creating a workflow map should look like:

Step 1: Identify start and end points. What events or tasks will trigger the process to start? Is it a patient submitting a form? Lab results coming in? What will the final result of the workflow entail? Will a patient receive a phone call? Will another form be scanned or shared?

Step 2: Identify what is needed to perform the process. What tasks, documents, and actual materials (paper, pens, automation software, programs, etc.) are needed to complete the workflow?

Step 3: List any tasks and activities. Make a list of any tasks required for the workflow, no matter how small. State these in a verb/object format (e.g. approve the request, sign the paperwork, email the patient, etc.). Each task may get its own box in your flowchart or diagram, so you can group minor tasks together if necessary.

Step 4: Identify the order tasks should be accomplished. Should certain tasks be finished before others can be started? Or can certain tasks be accomplished at the same time?

Step 5: Identify roles. Who will be involved in what tasks or activities? Some tasks may involve simple automation tools and no human approval, while others will need a review and sign off. Identify who is responsible for which task and process in your workflow.

Step 6: Identify your flowchart type and draw it out. A simple flowchart may work for certain processes, while others might require something more in-depth, like a swimlane diagram. You can either draw out your flowchart by hand or use a tool like Visio, gliffy.com or draw.io.

Step 7: Review and finalize. After you’ve set everything up, make sure to review all the steps in the process to ensure that nothing is missing.

Some form workflows you may consider mapping (and then automating) include things like consents, referrals, intake forms, checklists, care guides, rounding, or any other ancillary care forms.

Anything that is currently paper-based should be considered for mapping and automation.

How to Start Automating Healthcare Forms

Once you have your workflow maps created, the next step is to start the automation process.

Some workflows may be automated through your EMR/EHR, while others will require a third-party automation tool.

If you used IntakeQ’s forms on your website for patient intakes, for example, that part of your workflow is automated.

Forms are submitted online and someone from your office staff is alerted when a new form is submitted. Those forms would then be exported into your EMR/EHR system. With no actual handling of paperwork, that process is considered automated.

You could also automate the sharing of files via a patient portal, or from another clinic using an EMR/EHR.

When starting the automation process, you should:

  • Understand the capacities of your current EMR/EHR system. What automated processes can it handle already? How easy are files to add, change, upload or share?
  • Check for integrations with your EMR/EHR. Some tools and resources can integrate automatically, while others can integrate by uploading files into the system. Either option will save you time, depending on your workflow.
  • Look for eForm solutions (like IntakeQ) that can automate further. Electronic forms can help automate processes between your website and front office, saving your administrative staff time and energy.

If you’re not sure whether or not an automation tool is right for your clinic, request a demo first and take time to test out your workflows using the tool.

You should notice a difference in the time saved between performing a task manually and automating it.

Here are 5 tips on how to add automation to your workflow.

Final Thoughts

Even though an EMR/EHR system is designed to save you time, that doesn’t mean you don’t have bottlenecks preventing you from operating at peak efficiency.

Paper processes or having too many steps in a given process, for example, can cause slowdowns that could reduce your patient care quality.

In an industry where patient health means life or death, understanding your workflows should be a priority.

Take time to map out your most significant processes, create a visual flowchart, and then look for ways to add automation to certain steps to make your life – and the lives of your patients – that much easier.

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