The true cost of patient registration is hard to analyze because most providers and hospitals have convinced themselves they need to handle patient registration, instead of the patient handling it themselves. Therefore, the cost for patient registration can’t be improved and constantly increases based on new industry standards, such as meaningful use questions and ever-increasing staff costs. The result of this attitude and approach is that patient registration often takes more time than necessary. If the patient is unable to control his or her data during the registration process, lengthy wait times and increased dissatisfaction occur—costing providers both time and money.
Patients, on average, spend about 20 minutes in waiting rooms of healthcare organizations. When these organizations don’t focus on streamlining the patient check-in process, patient throughput suffers. Staffing expenses increase because staff must take time to clarify patient data or fill in missing pieces at the point of service. In addition, the potential for denied claims is higher due to a lack of data verification, raising overall collection costs.
Today, just 5 to 10 percent of healthcare organizations offer self-service solutions for patient registration and check-in. This is a missed opportunity to improve patient satisfaction, reduce costs and increase revenue. There are three benefits of self-service check-in technologies healthcare leaders should consider.
Speed. At Montgomery Cancer Center in Montgomery, Alabama, an electronic patient check-in solution decreased patient check-in time to just 41 seconds. Putting the registration process in the hands of patients not only provides them with the ability to manage their experience, but also limits check-in time simply by eliminating a visit to the front desk. This increases patient throughput and ensures that the time staff does spend with patients is of higher value.
Consider the airport registration process. When passengers fly, the last place they want to go to is a desk staffed by an airline employee. Instead, the first stop is to a kiosk or a mobile application with built-in technology that recognizes individuals with the touch of a few buttons, thanks to information they have been able to input in advance.
The experience in most hospitals and physician practices is often the opposite. Patient check-in is heavily dependent on staff—and breakdowns in processes occur when staff call in sick. They also occur when staff follow the same steps for each patient rather than customizing the registration process to the patient’s situation and needs. This increases the potential for error, which can lead to lost revenue.
Some hospitals and physician practices have tried to automate the registration process with the use of tablets rather than self-service platforms that verify data in real-time. However, this approach has critical flaws. For example, to receive a tablet, patients must go to the front desk, just as with traditional, manual processes, and any front-desk encounter adds time to the visit and costs hospitals and physician practices money. Every patient visit to the front-desk is an incremental cost for the hospital or physician.
Patient experience. Why is it that patients spend more time in the front office than with their physician or a nurse? It’s because front-office processes are broken. When patients spend more time than necessary dealing with a provider’s front-office processes and staff, satisfaction plummets—and there is a cost to lost patient loyalty.
One of the biggest misconceptions in healthcare is that front-office staff in physician practices and hospitals provide a personal touch to the patient encounter. But think about what this encounter typically looks like: “We have a few questions we need you to answer. Here is your paperwork [or tablet]. Please return this with your insurance card and driver’s license …” Is this really the personal touch we’re seeking to provide in healthcare?
Meanwhile, patients complain about the amount of paperwork they must complete before being seen by a physician. The personal touch they want is time spent with their physician. Anything that impedes their ability to see their physician impacts their experience.
Ideally, patients should spend two minutes or less on registration activities when they arrive for their appointment. While the amount of time spent at check in will vary by specialty, look for a self-service check-in solution that can ensure a two-minutes-or-less process.
Improved communication. So often in healthcare, it appears no one has time to truly talk with patients. Front-desk staff don’t always have the experience or time to have a meaningful conversation with patients. Nurses and technicians are under too much pressure to move patients through processes quickly. When the patient does see a physician, the backlog of patients—stemming in part from inefficient check-in processes—limits time for a meaningful encounter beyond the reason for the visit at hand.
Yet studies consistently show that the quality of patient communication has a direct impact on patient satisfaction. Effective communication is critical to the patient experience, which is now measured and tied to value-based payments. It’s also vital to understanding the patient’s total health needs and managing the patient’s health beyond a single episode of care.
A self-service check-in process opens the door to more meaningful communication with patients not just by freeing up staff time, but also by improving throughput. For example, nurses and physicians are better able to share information about additional services the patient may wish to consider. Staff can then augment these conversations by providing patients with brochures that offer greater detail about these services. Staff time also can be spent on patient follow up, making sure discharge instructions are clear and future appointments are scheduled.
Additionally, a self-service check-in solution offers real-time authentication of data and the opportunity to survey patients. Communicating financial information to patients can’t be done through the current paper process; however, when a patient uses a digital check-in solution, their data can be immediately authenticated, which allows for immediate communication of copays and remaining deductibles. Patients can also relate their experience with a staff member or physician in a post-office visit survey to actively share their suggestions for practice improvement. Not only do patients feel listened to, but their suggestions also help providers increase satisfaction and value.
Reengineering the patient registration experience is critical to eliminating front-office errors and delays that cost healthcare organizations money. It’s also essential to creating a more positive experience for patients as well as staff—a key step toward improving value.