By Stephanie Servy, Director of National Accounts, Clearwave
It takes just seven seconds to make a first impression according to a New York University study, so imagine the impression patients are getting at the point of check-in.
Wait times of more than 18 minutes are standard for hospitals and physician offices, and check-in is largely dependent on the efficiency of front-desk staff — most of whom still rely largely on manual or even paper-based processes. When registration takes longer than necessary, patient throughput suffers and satisfaction plummets.
In recent years, so much of healthcare leaders’ attention has been focused on responding to new regulations, such as those implemented under the Affordable Care Act and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. As a result, many providers haven’t devoted the necessary resources toward running their front office efficiently. But at a time when 77 percent of patients rely on online reviews to guide their selection of a provider, simplifying the patient check-in process, where first impressions take shape, is critical.
New technologies that put check-in in the hands of patients are changing the front-office dynamic, reducing costs, and improving revenue. Yet fewer than 10 percent of healthcare organizations use these technologies. There are three business reasons why simplifying the patient check-in process with a self-service platform makes good business sense for providers.
Business Case No. 1: Self-service platforms for patient check-in enhance the patient experience from the point of first contact — a first step toward securing patient loyalty. Self-service platforms reduce the amount of time spent at check-in to just minutes — ideally, three minutes or less — giving patients who might already be under stress due to concerns about their health a feeling of control over their healthcare experience. They also customize the check-in process according to the patient’s individual needs. This allows front office staff to devote time to patients with more complicated registrations or those who have questions related to payment. It also increases the number of patients who can be seen each day, improving access and revenue.
At Montgomery Cancer Center in Montgomery, AL — where the average age of patients is 62 — implementing a self-service check-in solution in 2014 reduced registration times to about two minutes. “A registrar can’t work that fast with that level of accuracy, but our kiosks can,” says Katrina Belt, CFO for Baptist Health. “You would not think this type of technology would lend itself to cancer patients, especially given the high volume we treat, but just the opposite is true.”
Business Case No. 2: Self-service platforms decrease the risk of registration errors. Today, it’s common for 3 to 5 percent of provider cash flow to be lost due to improper registration, documentation, coding, and back-end processes. Self-service platforms offer the ability to verify patient insurance and demographic data in real-time, improving the odds of a clean claim and eliminating the need to correct errors on the back end. This not only protects revenue, but also helps ensure staff is able to follow up with patients effectively after their appointment.
Real-time verification of benefits coverage also supports the ability to collect payment from patients at the point of service, improving collection rates. This is a critical strategy for protecting the financial health of hospitals and physician offices, given the increase in high-deductible health plans. Giving patients a clear estimate of their out-of-pocket responsibility opens the door for staff to have meaningful conversations with patients who might require a payment plan to meet their obligations. When financial conversations must take place after the point of service, real-time verification of demographic data supports the ability to connect with patients more easily, reducing collection costs.
Business Case No. 3: Self-service platforms provide increased time for more meaningful engagement with patients. Patient throughput is enhanced, increasing the potential for nurses and physicians to engage with patients during the scheduled appointment time. Reduced check-in time also supports the ability of clinicians to ask patients questions about their health beyond the reason for the visit at hand — and this is key to a holistic approach to care.
Time front-office staff formerly spent on registration activities can be redirected toward conversations with patients about other services the organization offers or for discharge planning assistance. For instance, staff can connect patients in need with community resources that can improve health outcomes while reducing length of stay and the risk of readmission.
Investing in self-service options for patient check-in goes a long way towards increasing patient satisfaction. Self-service check-in platforms reduce the stress of a healthcare visit and generate trust at a time when patients experience anxiety due to their health concern or condition. Ultimately, these platforms increase the odds of a positive patient encounter — and that goes a long way toward securing patient loyalty.
About The Author
Stephanie Servy is an experienced healthcare executive with over 15 years in the industry. She is an expert in account management, training, customer service and business development. She serves as Clearwave’s Director of National Account and is a highly skilled business leader. She is passionate about improving patient registration process for patients through the Clearwave platform.