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How Digital Patient Intake, Registration Boost Patient Experience

The digital patient intake tool at Hansen Family Hospital streamlined the patient registration process, making for not just good patient experience but better workflows.

It’s easy for a patient to become overwhelmed visiting the clinic or hospital. Even the patient intake process is rife with chaos and complexity, asking patients to manage a litany of forms and permissions that can, at best, be a lot of patient registration paperwork and, at worst, be a redundant blight on the patient experience.

That much was true for Hansen Family Hospital, an Iowa-based healthcare organization that’s an affiliate of MercyOne. Even years before the pandemic, the push for more healthcare automation, patient engagement technologies, and consumer-centered care made clear the imperative for better patient registration and access tools.

These healthcare technologies have been on the market for a while, according to Hansen leaders. Patient access tools let patients fill out the demographics and insurance information while also signing and submitting certain forms, all before the point of care, which is of great benefit to the patient access process.

After all, the last thing anyone wants is more paperwork in their lives.

But that’s exactly what patients would get when they visited Hansen, Kathy Hastings, the patient access manager at the hospital, told PatientEngagementHIT in an interview.

“Anybody that's come in to register, whether it's a clinic appointment or just an outpatient lab or radiology appointment, we've had to capture consent forms, stability forms, insurance cards, photo IDs, communication authorization,” Hastings outlined. “The process to register can be very timely, especially if it's a new patient.”

That clunky process is anathema to the healthcare patients are demanding today. The streamlined automation of other service sectors like retail, travel, and banking, has shifted the paradigm for consumer-facing industries. Healthcare can’t get away with its chaos and complexity much longer; the rise in healthcare consumerism means organizations need to streamline their processes to meet patient expectations.

In fact, patients are asking for it, Hastings said.

“We've had patients call in and ask, ‘Can I check in online?’” she explained. “When patients aren't feeling well, the last thing they want to do is stand at a counter and fill out multiple forms; or have to have a lot of extra contact with other people; or repeat themselves or get asked the same information that they feel like they've given multiple times. To be able to do that at their convenience is definitely a patient satisfier.”

It's not just the patient experience either, said Angie Risius, Hansen’s director of revenue cycle. A manual patient intake and registration process leaves a lot of room for human error, and when the front office misses something like a change in insurance coverage, it can be costly to both Hansen and the patient.

That much became obvious during the pandemic, when patients weren’t able to do in-person check-in.

“If you don't have patients coming on-site during a pandemic, you can't get that information,” Hastings recalled during the interview. “If we have a respiratory clinic patient who might not be seeing a registration person or gathering any of that information needed, it was quite the challenge.”

Hansen turned to patient intake technology as part of a system-wide effort spearheaded by MercyOne. Alongside other affiliate hospitals, Hansen was able to give some of its input to a network liaison, a process that was helpful in making sure a tool would fit its unique needs, Risius said.

The network landed on technology from Epion, which lets patients fill out their paperwork and upload documents and files securely by clicking a link that is sent via text or email. Hansen makes sure patients are oriented with the tool by notifying them about it after they have scheduled an appointment.

When it came to implementation, Hansen, at the urging of MercyOne, set the bar high. Some technology implementations require a piecemeal approach, with organizations rolling out one service line at a time. There’s a good reason why organizations do this; new technologies can be disruptive and it’s easier to course correct on a smaller scale.

But with a patient-facing tool like digital patient intake, Risius said it was essential to scale up as much as possible.

“Patients and consumers were asking for this functionality,” she reiterated. “It's hard for them to understand why you wouldn't roll it out throughout an organization. So, in having those discussions here, it might have been a lot of work to get this for all service lines in our organization, but consumers were wanting that, and it's been working pretty well.”

Making things easier for the patient simplifies things for the patient access team, too. Digital patient registration means Hansen has all necessary patient information up front, and staffers don’t need to follow up with patients to confirm anything.

“It happened quite often during the pandemic where registration wasn't even looped in and the patient changed insurance,” Hastings recalled. “But not having any contact with the facility or somebody to collect that information, patients might not have realized that they needed to provide that information.”

“Having that information, the demographic information or insurance information up front and correct from the patient to have that flow into the system has been a huge benefit,” Hastings continued. “It is definitely a more efficient process. It's reduced rework, reduced denials or write offs,” she continued, offering anecdotal evidence.

Hansen is on constant iteration for the tool, Risius said. For example, the organization is working to make sure the patient outreach part of the tool, or the text message notifications, are judicious. After all, most data recommends that providers be wary of sending too many texts.

“It's also looking at different appointment types—when it's appropriate to send texts, how often they're receiving a text, reevaluating, ‘do we have the notifications of when they receive them at the right timeframe based on the data?’” Risius stated. “There's a lot of thought that goes into it, but it's definitely being well received by patients.”

Hastings said adding in copay collections will go a long way in organization operations.

“Being able to get the payment functionality, being able to pay a copay, would be amazing,” she concluded. “To have that upfront, that would be wonderful as well. It'll definitely reduce insurance AR time. We’ll get a positive impact on the financial side and less inventory in our AR eventually.”

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