Why Practices Are Ditching Paper and Upgrading to Digital Check-In

Why Practices Are Ditching Paper and Upgrading to Digital Check-In

By Gerard White

A study in JAMA Surgery found 66 percent of scheduled surgeries are missing a critical consent form or approval—and 14 percent of surgeries are delayed because of this.

This is just one example why paper-based patient registration processes are not only outdated, but also cost patients and healthcare organizations time and money.

Paper-based processes slow organizations’ ability to verify coverage, eligibility and demographic information. This impedes approvals of necessary treatment and puts revenue at risk by hindering the ability to produce a clean claim. Additionally, when critical forms are missing prior to a healthcare appointment, patient anxiety increases. This erodes trust while decreasing throughput, engagement and ultimately, satisfaction.

Today, an increasing number of healthcare organizations are looking to digital check-in solutions to streamline workflows and reduce costs and wait times.

Digital check-in solutions improve patient flow, increasing the number of patients who may be seen in a single day. They enable patients to sign critical forms at the point of check in, ensuring compliance with protocols while automatically recording consent within the patient’s electronic record. They provide estimates of patients’ out-of-pocket responsibility and process payments, increasing point-of-service collections. Furthermore, digital check-in solutions eliminate long wait times for hospitals and physician practices, which still average 19 minutes nationally. For patients, this means greater time for meaningful engagement with physicians and nurses.

Three organizations’ experiences demonstrate the power of making the move to digital check-in.

UAB Health System

A year ago, UAB Health System’s Division of Orthopaedics Surgery wanted to increase patient check-in times and enhance patient satisfaction while increasing point-of-service collections. At that time, check-in times for new patients totaled seven minutes, while check-in times for returning patients were more than four minutes long. Meanwhile, point-of-service collections averaged $1,500 daily, a figure UAB knew could be improved.

Last April, UAB installed six self-registration platforms in its clinic at UAB Hospital-Highlands, located in Birmingham, Alabama. The system validates patient insurance and demographic information in real time, while allowing patients to address discrepancies and fill in gaps in data. UAB’s digital solution also enables patients to sign key forms, calculate patient co-pays, prompt patients for payment, and alert front desk staff that a patient has arrived.

On the first day of use, more than 200 patients used the self-check-in solution—and check-in times dropped to just three minutes per patient.

Today, check-in times for returning patients total less than one minute, 20 seconds, while point-of-service collections have increased 54 percent. Many patients also are taking advantage of the platform’s smartphone check-in feature for return visits, increasing patient convenience and front-office efficiency.

The initiative won an innovation award from the health system, recognizing the significant, measurable impact the self-registration solution has had for UAB orthopedics patients.

Montgomery Cancer Center

Montgomery Cancer Center, part of Baptist Health in Montgomery, Alabama, sees an average of 450 patients per day. The average age of patients is 62, and most patients read at a third-grade level, so check-in solutions must be easy to read and navigate.

In January 2014, physicians at Montgomery Cancer Center implemented self-service kiosks with the goal of reducing check-in times and eliminating tedious registration tasks for front-office staff. This would open the door for patient financial counseling—a new service that gave front-office staff the ability to engage in more meaningful conversations that provide greater value for the center’s patients.

Thanks to the self-check-in solutions, registration has decreased to two minutes, 18 seconds—faster than registration staff could perform the same functions by hand and with greater accuracy, due to real-time insurance and demographic data verification. Patient information is electronically fed into the patient’s electronic medical record, ensuring the right information gets to the right place at the right time.

Electronic check-in also has boosted revenue for other service lines. For example, now that registration staff can engage with patients in other ways, they’ve begun to ask patients whether they have registered for lung screenings or mammograms—and those conversations have led to increased business.

Marietta Eye Clinic

In 2013, Marietta Eye Clinic, located near Atlanta, was growing, with eight offices and a surgery center—and its director of revenue cycle, Elliott Gatehouse, faced a challenge: how to increase efficiency without compromising quality of care.

Given the amount of growth the organization was experiencing, Gatehouse knew the first place for improvement was the front office, where processes were “terribly inefficient”. Patients typically waited 28 minutes to see a physician and patient satisfaction was at risk.

“We needed to be able to get patients out of the waiting room, where they don’t want to be, anyway, and back to see our physicians more quickly,” Gatehouse says.

Gatehouse chose a digital self-check-in solution that would verify patient insurance benefits faster than registration staff, with the added benefit of verifying demographic data, too. The solution would also integrate with the eye clinic’s electronic practice management (PM) system, so information captured by the check-in platform would automatically be stored in the PM system.

Both patients and staff initially were fearful of moving to digital check-in; they didn’t want human interactions to be replaced by a computer. They soon found the platforms enabled registrars to engage with patients in new ways while reducing paperwork and stress for both patients and staff.

Wait times quickly dropped to just five minutes, an 82 percent decrease. Thirty-three percent of staff who formerly worked in registration now devote time to more patient-centric activities, and revenue, satisfaction and referrals have increased. “We now have time to do things we never could have done before, like verify benefit levels on same-day medical procedures,” says Sherry Hobbs, surgery and laser coordinator for the clinic.

Increased Value for Patients and Staff

Ditching paper-based processes in favor of digital check-in makes good business sense for healthcare organizations. It increases the chances of a good first impression while increasing revenue and efficiency for the organization. Making the move to digital check-in also elevates patient experience and satisfaction—two key factors for patient loyalty.

Gerard White is the president and chief executive officer of Clearwave.