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Digital patient intake

HIPAA compliant digital patient intake forms help increase your medical practice margins by reducing manual labor and the need for increased staff. One of the (many) ways to reduce your practice overheads is to use digital patient intake forms. Whether you use them on a tablet (like iPad or Android tablets) or whether you use a kiosk (the Phreesia kind), or on your website – digital intake forms help in these ways:

  • Limit the number of front desk staff you need to check in patients
  • Limit the time spent by front desk staff on each patient
  • Limit data entry errors by front desk staff
  • Allows you to collect patient copays via credit cards – more importantly, have their card on file
  • Reduces the time spent by your techs on entering patient data
  • Captures correct demographic, insurance and contact information from patients
  • Keeps patients busy and reduces the wait times for patients

Table of Contents

Why you need digital patient intake forms or patient intake software

Your EMR has patient demographics, patient insurance, clinical data like allergies, vitals, medications, HPI, immunizations, consent forms etc.

That’s a massive amount of information that your front desk and techs have to enter into your EMR. The demographics data is entered by the front desk and the clinical data is entered by the techs.

The insurance, ID proof and consent forms on the other hand are the simply scanned and attached to your EMR as “documents”

Digital patient intake software allows you to offload this overhead of data entry to patients themselves. Who else knows their data better?

Patients are entering a lot of this information when they sit in your waiting room anyway – might as well have them fill these out electronically so that this information goes directly into the EMR and your staff is relieved of this task.

If you could allow your patients to access their own EMR patient record, you would not even need patient intake in the first place.

Patient intake forms are pretty much the same as the paper intake forms that your practice has been used to – it’s just online, that’s all.

What do digital patient intake forms look like?

There are so many vendors with this technology, so whoever you choose to go with, will have a different look and feel to it. Net-net is that ultimately, these are a series of forms, that are online.. That’s it. Think of the new patient registration PDFs that you currently have on your website that your patients have to download/fill out before the visit or the ones that you have in your offices and ask patients to fill out.. These digital patient intake forms are just like those.. With a few major differences.

Here are a few examples of what such forms might look like on mobile…

Pretty much the same information that you capture on your registration forms.. And a few extras.

Immediate benefits to expect from digital patient intake software

A couple of immediate benefits to expect

Increased staff productivity

This is arguably the area where the largest gains from patient intake form implementation will be found.

Staff at all levels in nearly every medical practice are overburdened with work; this is no different for front desk staff. They must be able to answer phones, check-in patients, process forms, etc. Migrating a significant proportion of patient check-ins to digital/online form frees up quite a bit of the front desk staff’s time to engage in more value-added activities.

For example, instead of having to check in self-sufficient patients, staff can spend time with complicated patients that may need assistance, or they can reduce the hold times that patients currently have when calling for assistance or appointment scheduling.

If it can be automated at an affordable price, it typically makes economic sense to do so; with digital patient intake forms, the trend is no different. With most digital intake form software, there is a degree of customization that can easily occur.

For example, established patients with certain diagnoses could be guided through certain forms to complete and new patients can be guided through a different set of forms. These are items that are easy for overburdened front desk staff to miss, and if they are pushed to an MA or nurse in an exam room, it interrupts the flow of other patients through the practice; handling these at check-in keeps the patient flow streamlined and reduces the chance for errors to occur. Increasingly, check-in kiosks also can link this information to discrete data in the patient’s record.

Another example, if the patient completes a Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) 2/9 online, that data can then populate the correct section of the EMR; if the patient corrects their demographic information in the kiosk, it can, likewise, correct the practice management system.

One of the biggest challenges and source of inaccurate clinical data & billing errors stems from the fact that healthcare practice staff are never clinically trained.

So, the $12-$15/hr staff that you have on board, running your practice; have them perform other more personalized tasks instead of inputting data from the intake forms to your EMR/EPM.

Reduced billing errors

Some patient intake form software can also validate a patient’s insurance information before the patient even steps into your practice. Not only can these software validate insurance information at the time the appointment is made by the patient – they can also run a sanity check on the day before or day of the visit.

Many billing problems occur due to inconsistencies between plans you participate in and the insurance plan the patient carries.

Other billing issues occur due to variances in patient’s address, the plan name, the member ID, the patient’s address, their primary care physician name etc

Digital intake form software platforms can not only validate the insurance information but can also check into a patient’s eligibility.

Any time prior authorizations are required, your care team can be alerted about the same. The patient can also be automatically kept in the loop to ensure that all such prerequisites are taken care of, before the visit itself.

One area that is often overlooked is valid patient identity – patient identity fraud is a big problem and usually leads to fines being levied on practices. Most practices handle this situation by asking the patient to come in with a proof of identification. This is OK to do – however, if the identification fails, you have lost a potential slot that could have been filled by a different patient.

Do not allow that to happen.

Even patient identities can be verified online by these software platforms. Nowadays, with all the available cloud based technologies and APIs, patient identity verification is really not that big a deal.

It’s very simple for software platforms to do these things for you. As an example, these patient intake platforms can easily scan the photo IDs of patients and verify them in real time. The software can also take pictures/scan the insurance IDs, read the data on those cards and verify insurance eligibility in real time.. All the various headaches your front desk has (and you incur salary overheads for) are taken care of.

So, use these technologies and techniques to verify and screen your patients, verify their insurance eligibility, do prior authorizations as needed and rid yourself of these manual processes.

Imagine what this does for your billing department and how it contributes to your revenue cycle management processes !

Increased revenues – copays and balances

For some reason, we find that front desk staff do NOT feel comfortable in collecting patient balances and they don’t really fight to collect patient copays. While you are in the back, treating patients, your front desk is leaking revenues due to you.

Don’t let it happen – remove the emotions and the front desk’s personal inhibitions out of the way. Start collecting revenues.

A majority of the practices we work with, do not even keep credit cards on file. This allows patients to not show up whenever they want – leaving you with a loss of revenues. Each time a patient makes an appointment, they should be asked to keep a credit card on file so that you can at least “threaten” them with the prospect of charging their card for a missed appointment.

Patients do not like being charged for a missed appointment, but if you do it once, they will reduce their recurring “no-show” behavior.

Probably the most important part of patient intake software platforms (some have these, some don’t) are the ability to directly impact your invoicing and collections abilities.

Nowadays, it is not difficult for software platforms to be able to collect payments up front and also to collect remaining balances with patient’s approvals.

Most patients (no matter what their demographics are) are already used to these technologies in their everyday lives. They pay for things online (don’t let them tell you otherwise). With a click of a button or on a pre-set agreement, they pay your past dues online, without the vendor having to chase them down for collecting payments.

Why aren’t you using the same techniques with your patients? They are all used to paying for services online via a credit card or debit card or paypal etc.

You can ! These digital patient intake software platforms can help – use them.

It’s as simple as collecting a patient’s credit card or preferred payment method online during the patient intake process, having them pay their copay before you see them (you know your notices of “payment is due at time of service”? This is an easy way to ensure that you really get paid – for sure).

You could even reduce no-shows and ensure that patients come in for their time slot by making them pay their copay before they step in the door.

Now, for the matter of balance due payments. It’s very simple as well. During the patient intake process, while you collect the credit card or debit card or bank information from patients, you simply have to get patients to agree that this same payment method would be used for paying balance dues.

That’s it. Let patients opt-in for this process and you are done. Half your billing and payment collection headaches are taken care of.

It’s not hard for these patient intake software platforms to give you all these abilities.

Increased patient reviews

You will see higher patient reviews – just based on reduced patient wait times.

Typically, your doctors are pretty fast – however, techs need a lot of time to enter all patient data into the EMR so that it is documented as needed (for doctors and for payers).

On top of this, most patients never remember all their medication information anyway, so, no matter what you do – your techs are never really capturing 100% accurate information.

This increases the time it takes to work up a patient.

Which, in turn, increases the wait times for other patients.

When patients are asked to fill out their medication, history of present illness, social history etc from the security and comfort of their homes, expect to collect accurate information and expect your patient wait times to reduce and your workflow to speed up.

More than 90% of bad reviews occur due to long wait times (which leads to patient dissatisfaction, ornery patients and staff).

Once you decrease your patient wait times and reduced front desk load, you will automatically see better patient reviews.

Patients usage of digital patient intake software

There is, when the topic of kiosks or digital patient intake forms in medical clinics comes up, at least some degree of apprehension by providers.

Will patients dislike them? Will they be used, or will it end up as another unused technological gadget in my office?

These are good questions that may not always have the same answer for every practice. For example, a pediatric practice or a practice with an adult population that skews younger will most certainly have a high degree of usage if the implementation is well planned and appropriate marketing of the digital patient intake process or kiosks to patients occurs.

Another great use case would be urgent care clinics; these clinics pride themselves on volume, speed, and good customer service. Anything that can speed up registration, keep staff more productive, and possibly increase patient throughput is especially critical to an urgent care’s bottom line.

Additionally, it wouldn’t be fair to assume that just because a practice’s demographics skew older that it is unable to successfully implement kiosks.

Indeed, senior citizens have become adept at using various forms of technology over the years and, in face, are growing proportion of the site’s such as Facebook’s growing user base.

It is also important to note that the desire for self-service and self-control over healthcare is increasing. This is likely both generational and accounted for by changes in the healthcare sector.

With the former, younger generations are increasingly accustomed to self-service utility like tools. Think of the growth of self-service banking, ride sharing applications such as Uber or Lyft, and delivery meal prep services such as Blue Apron.

That generational shift in the economy along with the growth, as previously mentioned, of digital intake or kiosks elsewhere in the economy creates a culture accustomed to and expectant of self-service.

Regarding the latter point on the general changes in the healthcare sector, patients, as they are increasingly expected to take responsibility for more their utilization via high deductible plans and increased copays, are becoming more demanding with their expectations for a minimal level of customer service.

Patients, as consumers, are going to be increasingly frustrated with and resistant to repeatedly filling out large amounts of forms.

In fact, some research has found that a not insignificant number of patients have even at least partly based their decision on what provider to seek care from based on the availability of self-service options.

The same research found that a significant number of patients were interested in self-service options.

Healthcare, while it is certainly a unique sector of the economy, has not inoculated itself from the increasing desire for consumers to exercise increased control over the services they receive.

Digital intake platforms and kiosks, like well-maintained and well-used patient portals, will likely be incorporated with the trend towards more consumer health devices in overall patient care management in the future.

How to leverage digital patient intake

We recommend that you combine all patient intake channels.

Take a moment and list all the ways you get patients (and patient appointments).

Appointments for new patients

  • Patients request appointments on your website
  • Patients call in and request appointments
  • Referring providers call and request appointments for their patients
  • Referring providers send new patient appointment requests using some patient referral software
  • Patients request appointments on Facebook
  • Patients request appointments via ZocDoc
  • Etc

For all these channels, you are presented with the maximum amount of information that needs to be gathered.

Appointments for existing patients

  • Same channels as above, HOWEVER, the good thing is that you already have all the patient data
  • The challenge is to ensure that all the patient data that is in your EMR is current and up to date

Think through the patient intake process – what you need

  • Minimum patient information you need to be able to create a patient in the EMR
  • Minimum information you need to be able to create an appointment in the EMR

Everything else can be gathered later on – before the patient comes in (pre-visit) and when the patient is at the practice (during visit)

Minimum patient info needed (might vary by EMR)

  • Patient first name
  • Patient address
  • Patient email address or patient opt-out consent
  • Patient preferred language
  • Patient date of birth
  • Patient Gender, race, ethnicity

Minimum patient insurance info needed (might vary by EMR)

  • Relationship to patient
  • Payer Name
  • Policy Type
  • Member ID / member number
  • Insurance effective from

Minimum appointment scheduling info needed (might vary by EMR)

  • Appointment date
  • Appointment time
  • Appointment location
  • Appointment visit type / nature of visit
  • Appointment provider

Minimum information needed before attending the patient

  • Notice of Privacy Practices consent
  • Insurance billing (assignment) consent
  • Consent for digital (E-mail, SMS, app) communication
  • Consent for use of electronic prescription orders
  • Current medications
  • Chief complaint
  • History of present illness
  • Past medical conditions
  • Past surgeries
  • Social history
  • Immunizations
  • Allergies
  • Vitals

Here’s how you should break down the patient intake workflow

How to handle patient intake for new patients

Here’s our suggested way of collecting all patient information while still providing patients with an optimized experience. In the best case scenario as described below, the patient barely has to input any information (other than clinical) and the worst case scenario, they do have to type in all their information (which they would have to provide over a call anyway)

Get patient contact information

Ask for the patient’s first name, phone number as the first step. If the patient abandons the patient intake form, at least your front desk or call center agents can call the patient back.

  • Once you get this information, you can use a few APIs to try and reduce the amount of information the patient has to enter.
  • Use APIs like everyoneapi.com, https://www.peopledatalabs.com/ or https://www.fullcontact.com/, facebook sign in , google sign in etc (there are many providers) to look up people’s information.
  • If you use this method, your patient will have to provide minimal demographics information and can proceed to enter data that you truly do not have (e.g. insurance)
  • Now that you at least have data to call the patient back, proceed with insurance step

Get patient insurance information

  • Keep in mind that eligibility verification is for a specific provider at a specific location.
  • Ask for patient’s preferred appointment location, preferred appointment visit type / nature of visit, preferred appointment provider.
  • Now you have the provider ID (NPI number) and the other basic info you need.
  • Next step is to get some information on the patient’s insurance. This will vary because some insurances support eligibility requests using specific service type codes. Meanwhile, some providers will give you general health benefit coverage when a member has a specific group number that you can provide. Others will give you eligibility request’s responses if you provide a CPT code. Meanwhile, you can also check for Medicare eligibility by including the HCPCS code
  • Try to find a way to help the patient let you know what their chief complaint is or the reason for the visit is. Remember that you can run eligibility checks based on a combination of information that the patient might have in their hands.
  • You can use various providers to check eligibility information immediately (e.g. https://eligible.com/documentation or https://pokitdok.com/business/insurance-eligibility-verification/ or https://www.pverify.com/eligibility-api/ or https://developer.cms.gov/marketplace-api/ or https://www.experian.com/healthcare/products/patient-access-registration/insurance-eligibility-verification).
  • The good thing about these APIs (when they work well) is that you get real-time eligibility information AND you get patient details as well (in most cases). If you get patient information, then you no longer have to ask for the patient to enter their information – they can just verify/update the same. Many of these APIs return information about the payer, their coverage, their primary care information, their emergency contacts, their addresses, their SSN etc.
  • If the patient’s insurance does not clear, let the patient know their options – self pay or to rebook after resolving their insurance eligibility issue.

Show estimate of care / out of pocket estimates

  • Patient balance collection is one of the challenges most practices face. These days, remaining balance post EOBs are normal as patients are having to bear a higher out of pocket costs.
  • At the time of setting an appointment, if your software can use these vendor APIs to provide an estimate of care / out of pocket cost estimates – that greatly helps in reducing your own costs later down the road in collecting from patient.

Get patient appointment preferences

  • Ask the patient for their preferred appointment date, preferred appointment time. Patients greatly appreciate this kind of self service and the ability to know up front whether they can book an appointment or not.
  • If the patient’s insurance is valid (i.e. the patient’s eligibility verification goes through), show all available appointment options to the patient and allow them to book their appointment.
  • Each EMR has APIs that allow you to pull appointment slots, appointment availability, appointment types, appointment blockouts, providers, resources etc. Make sure that your patient intake software ties into these APIs and presents the right information (e.g. check https://developer.carecloud.com/docs – you will have all the required information that you need)
  • Once the patient picks an appointment time/slot, stop at this point and thank the patient for the information. Advise them to expect an SMS / email with confirmation information.

Begin SMS conversation with patient

  • Send the patient an SMS and/or email confirming their appointment details.
  • In this communication, send a link to the patient where they have access to their upcoming appointment at all times.
  • Make sure that this information is protected with verification of DOB. If the patient enters the correct DOB, they can open the appointment confirmation link.
  • Note there that your EMR might already send a patient confirmation SMS automatically.
  • You might want to consider stopping the EMR from sending SMS as your patient intake software would also be sending an SMS with the confirmation and next steps SMS messages. This confuses patients since they get SMS from multiple phone numbers about the same appointment.
  • Make sure that your front desk / call center gets a notification that a new appointment has been requested. This notification could be a desktop alert or it could also be an email or SMS (only limited patient information can be sent via SMS)
  • Your front desk or call center person(s) should verify that the appointment has all the needed information and that you have necessary information in the patient record.

Continue with pre-visit patient registration

  • This is where you need to initiate your intake workflows. Our recommendation is to not ask the patient for every single thing up front. Allow them the ability to “save their work and finish later”.
  • This “save and finish later” ability also allows you to “stay in touch” with patients by reminding them to finish their intake / registration. Whether patients do this or not, that’s not a guarantee – however, what’s guaranteed is that the patient will be reminded of their appointment and will have lesser likelihood of being a no-show (that we all dread, but have gotten used to).
  • Based on the number of days left for their appointment, send them an SMS to finish their patient registration. This should gather clinical information as mentioned above.
  • Gathering these patient clinicals will drastically reduce the amount of time that the techs have to spend on documenting patient clinical information.
  • On top of this, your intake software should ask patients items from your patient health questionnaire. This further contributes to reducing patient wait times and techs + doctors have a more complete picture of the patient’s current medical condition before the patient even steps into the practice.
  • The best part? The patient is usually more committed to showing up for their appointment (reducing no-shows)
  • Send the patients their consent forms as well. Nowadays, most phones are smartphones/touchscreen phones and patients have no issues signing consent forms using a finger drawn signature or to even use their “full name” to e-sign a document (as you might have seen in most digital signature documents that you receive from various other companies.
  • Identity proof? Easy – simply ask the patient to use their phone and take a picture of their driver’s license or other forms of ID proof. These days, OCR software has progressed so much that these software can easily read pictures and present the necessary ID information to the patient to verify. Once patient has verified this information, you can save it in your EMR

Gather and keep patient card on file

  • We have heard many excuses that patients do not always have credit cards, do not want to provide credit cards over the phone etc.
  • Collect the patient credit card information as they check in or before they come to your practice.
  • It is very easy to add a credit card on file – your patients are storing credit cards on amazon, google, various e-commerce websites; they can certainly do the same with your digital intake software as well.
  • We have discovered that when our patient balance collections team calls patients, they actually end up paying using a credit or a debit card – some even pay via ACH payments.
  • Make sure that after the patient registration is done, you ask the patient to leave a credit card on file and ensure that the patient understands that the remainder patient balance is their responsibility PLUS the fact that you will automatically charge their card for the remaining balance post visit.

Pre-visit – send appointment reminders

  • Your intake software should remind patients of their appointments – via email, SMS or phone calls.
  • We recommend connecting with the patient via all modes.
  • You can choose to send an email 5 days before the appointment and ask them to confirm their appointment.
  • You can choose to send an SMS 3 days before the patient’s appointment and ask them to confirm their appointment.
  • You can choose to have an automated phone call made to the patient 1 day before the appointment and ask them to confirm their appointment.
  • At all these points, make it easy for the patient to reschedule their appointment (or cancel it altogether if they choose to do so).
  • If the patient chooses to reschedule their appointment, your intake software can take the same steps as before and ensure that it gets the patient an appointment slot in your EMR
  • If the patient chooses to cancel their appointment, your intake software should mark the patient as “cancelled” and put a reminder in your patient CRM to touch base with (human or automated) at a later time

During visit – Ask patients to verify their information

  • As soon as the patient comes in for their visit and wants to check in, ask them to verify their information.
  • To do so, you can use various modalities – a tablet, a kiosk or the cheapest option.. tell the patient that you are going to send an SMS to their mobile of choice for them to verify their information.
  1. To do so, you can use various modalities – a tablet, a kiosk or the cheapest option.. tell the patient that you are going to send an SMS to their mobile of choice for them to verify their information.
  2. This is the time where you should collect their co-pays and also try to add their card on file again. It does work well.
  3. You will notice that patients would not always be able to afford their payments and would ask for a payment plan.
  4. There are several payment plan options available – patient financing options like Carecredit / prosperhealthcare etc, recurring payments on their credit cards. Make sure that you let the patient know that.
  5. Whatever you do, do NOT go into a passive payment collection mode. Research has shown that you have 70% less chances of collecting payment from patients once they walk out the door. 
  6. We have noticed that if you tell the patient that they have a balance due later on, they either cancel their appointment or ask your front desk to “bill them later” (which the front desk gladly agrees to). Do NOT let this happen to you and your practice.

Make it easy for patients to pay easily

  1. Your patients pay for various services online every day. We guarantee you that they will pay you as well (no matter if you think otherwise).
  2. Allow patients to pre-pay for their co-pay.
  3. Allow patients pay their co-pay while they are present at your practice for their appointment. In any case, you will have to ask patients to verify their informat

How to handle patient intake for inbound calls from patients

  1. Try to make sure that your intake process remains the same as much as possible
  2. When a patient calls in for an appointment, have your front desk or call center agents use the same intake screens / web pages.
  3. Get it to a point where the appointment is created in your EMR and thereafter, let the SMS conversation begin.

How to handle patient intake for inbound calls from referring providers

  1. Again, follow the same steps. However, note that the referring provider office will not always have the patient appointment preferences. You’ll have to give them the best available slots
  2. Make sure that you do capture the referring provider name, practice information, practice fax and contact info (as much as possible) so that you can send them patient appointment updates and also the visit notes after the appointment
  3. When you are processing a referral from a provider, the patient has probably already left the referring provider office. It’s best to modify the first patient SMS to help the patient understand that this appointment was created for them because of the patient’s provider visit and referral. Thereafter, you can continue the conversation with the patient directly.

How to handle patient intake for appointments from zocdoc

  1. First, you need to decide if you’re allowing direct connection between zocdoc and your EMR. If you allow this connection, then Zocdoc’s software creates a patient and the appointment in your EMR directly.
  2. However, you need to check whether zocdoc creates the patient records with all the necessary patient information or not. In our experience, we’ve found that zocdoc doesn’t have all the relevant patient information hence your digital patient intake software needs to finish the job that zocdoc started.
  3. These are going to special cases and your software should be able to send an SMS or email to the patient to continue pre-registration of the patient.
  4. If you haven’t allowed a direct connection between zocdoc and your EMR, then your front desk staff or your call center agent will be notified of the appointment. They will have to call the patient, finalize the patient and appointment details, then start the SMS conversation as above.

How to handle patient intake for Facebook / Google “Book now” appointments

  1. One good thing about these two platforms is that they allow you to send an automated response to the patient.
  2. In this automated response, you can have the patient start they intake process as if they’re cashing in or going to your website to request an appointment 

How to handle patient intake for existing patients

  1. Same channels as above, HOWEVER, the good thing is that you already have all the patient data.
  2. The challenge here is to ensure that all the patient data that is in your EMR is current and up to date
  3. In many cases, the patient’s demographic information and/or the insurance information would’ve changed. You need to verify that.
  4. We’ve found that the best way to handle this situation is to allow the patient to choose whether they’ve been at your practice or not
  5. If they state that they’re an existing patient, then they need to be verified with as many pieces of information as your EMR has. Eg phone number, date of birth, name match, ssn.
  6. Once the patient identifies themselves, you can proceed with the same steps as above. The big difference is that the existing patient will have the ease of verifying their information or correcting their information as needed.

Patient intake kiosks vs website vs tablet vs patient’s mobiles

The functionality remains the same in each modality. Patients can use their mobiles to fill out the requisite information from home / work. Meanwhile, tablets, kiosks can only be used at your practice.

Our recommendation is to lean more towards patients’ mobile phones as there are a few benefits:

  1. You can only purchase limited tablets for your practice (plus they use up storage space)
  2. You can only purchase limited kiosks for your practice (plus they use up floor space).
  3. Neither of these really give patients the privacy that some of the patients prefer (and deserve). Note that even today, immune system related diseases are associated with social stigma.

Kiosks – they are ubiquitous. You use them to check-in for flights at airports, to pay for your groceries, to pay a parking fee at a garage or parking lot, and some states even have them at DMVs or Secretary of State’s offices.

These are the easiest to use (form factor) but offer the least privacy and also use up too much floor space.

Tablets – Most of the patient intake platforms can run on a tablet (iOS, Android – whichever you choose). These are easier to use than mobile devices, offer a little bit more privacy than the kiosks, but some practices have complained that “devices seem to walk away from practice locations”.

Mobile devices – hardest to use because of form factor (smaller screen). However, in this case, you are leveraging the patient’s devices and at the same time giving them maximum privacy. Do keep in mind that if your intake software designs the intake workflow and screens in a way that it is easy to read for even older folks, this truly is a hit. 

Our recommendation is that you should use a combination of both. Mobile and for the patients that do not have a mobile number shared with your practice – use the tablets.

Other important features of digital patient intake software

Again, Capterra has a really nice list created for you – they evaluate various vendors for these features and have done all the legwork for you already.

You can start with as few or as many of these features. Just make sure that whichever vendor you go with, allows you to grow as your business needs grow.

Forms Automation Features

Approval Process Control

At a minimum, you are going to need some kind of approval processes within your business (i.e not everyone can publish forms willy nilly)

Archiving & Retention

Think about it.. You are going to need to be able to have different versions of forms (and retain the history of the same). As time progresses, you are going to need to update your forms.. But at the same time, your previous patients have already filled out older versions of the same form. You are going to need to retain those earlier versions as well.

Collaboration

Creating these forms is not really the job of one person. Usually you need to be able to collaborate between various offices to ensure that each practice/specialty’s needs are satisfied. Although not 100% required, this really does help larger, multi speciality practices.

Document Indexing

This is a life savior. When you first begin, you will probably not think about why you would want to search for specific words/terms within all the documents you have. But guess what, you are going to need to, in the feature. Make sure that your vendor allows this.

Drag & Drop

You are not a designer, nor are your employees designers. You shouldn’t have to spend a whole lot of time trying to design forms. These days, drag and drop images, logos, form elements etc are not hard to do. Your vendor should support that.

Full Text Search

As mentioned above, this becomes a very important feature.. To be able to type anything and search across all the documents (full text search is what the geeks call it)

Remote Document Access

Let’s face it, you are not going to sit in front of your computer all the time. Neither are your employees. If documents need to be updated, having the ability to access your documents anytime, anywhere from home or from work becomes really important. Make sure that security is adhered to and your vendor’s implementation of remote document access should make your life easier.

Rules-Based Workflow

Really nice to have for larger practices.

Text Editing

This is a must have from every vendor. Simple text editing should be available by default. Just like wordpress.

Version Control

Without version control, your life is going to be hellish. Make sure that your vendor supports version control of these documents.

eSignature support

This has become so easy to do these days that you really cannot avoid it. Simply have your patients sign via their fingers or even initial documents (these are legally acceptable as signatures)

Medical Practice Management Features

You may or may not want tight integration of these digital patient intake forms with your medical practice management suite. While this becomes a more comprehensive list of features to have, they really enhance seamless workflows and reduction in operational overhead (i.e. lesser FTEs required to run your practice)

Claims Management

It’s not a deal breaker, but to be able to handle patient intake tied to DME Claim Status Inquiry Status (CSI) – Same & Similar really helps your claims workflow. You will be able to tell if your patient has been issued a same or similar equipment by someone else.

E-Prescribing

The more data that you have about a patient, the better. Could you pull up a patient’s past medications and fill history from community pharmacies? Yup, you can and you can also import this data straight into a patient record.

EMR / EHR

The more tightly your forms and intake process are integrated with your EMR/EHR, the more savings you incur.

HIPAA Compliant

This, of course, is a non negotiable item and almost every vendor that plays in this space would support HIPAA compliance (they should give you a BAA and BIA as well)

Insurance Eligibility Verification

This is a life savior. Being able to perform insurance eligibility verification not only saves you time, future billing and collections headaches but it also saves your patient future headaches.

Multi-Office

If you are a multi office practice or hospital, this is what separates the kids from the big boys. Your patient intake software should be able to handle multiple offices, specialties and multiple locations.

Multi-Physician

This one’s a given as most larger practices/hospitals have needs of multiple physicians that are required.

Patient Billing

The minute an existing patient checks in, your patient intake software should have the ability to view their balance dues and anything outstanding should be paid up front. Why in the world would you service a patient that has balances overdue? Sure, you love your work, but you are not a charity, are you? Being able to bill a patient and collect from them at the earliest only helps you run your business better.

Patient Portal

If the digital intake software ties into your patient portal or at least behaves as a minimalistic patient portal, that’s even better. One challenge that has been discovered with patient portals is that not many people like using it. It’s not just due to the fact that it’s yet another userid, password to remember.. But also due to the fact that it presents only partial information. So, the easier your vendor makes things, the better it is for your practice

Patient Records

Goes without saying that the ability of your digital patient intake to tie directly into patient records, the better it is for your business. Why have another standalone, bolt on system where you have to manually transfer data to/from?

Patient Registration

Most patient intake systems would already do this as this is the main purpose of these software.

Patient Scheduling

This is where your business really starts to shine further and differentiate itself from others. Try to choose a vendor that also ties in patient scheduling with digital intakes. Think of the time your office spends in scheduling patients. The calls, the phone tag, the back/forth and the wasted cycles that are part of patient scheduling can all be a thing of the past with the right vendor. Make sure you opt for this capability.

Physician Scheduling

Technically, it is not very difficult for your patient intake software to also be able to handle physician scheduling based on what the patient is coming in for. However, as I have noticed while talking to many practice managers, most doctors are very picky about who they want to see, when they want to see them, what they want to do with their schedules etc.

Convert your existing forms

Most vendors these days would offer you to convert your existing forms for free (it’s in their best interests). Do avail this facility and choose a vendor that offers it to you. While it isn’t incredibly hard to convert your existing forms, why not avail this facility while you have it?

Customization

Make sure that your digital intake form platform allows for customization of your forms (while maintaining versions and historical changes/audit trails). You are going to need this capability to run your business as usual (lord knows it is not that easy to keep having to retrain your front office personnel).

Integrate with your website

Personally, I have always found this to be incredibly important.. To be able to collect patient information right from the website itself. But that’s also because I take a very marketing driven approach to my consulting business. Have people make their appointment online, fill out their data online as much as possible – once the patient leaves your website, they tend to forget getting these done.

Use your own branding

Any digital intake form/kiosk vendor worth their salt is going to allow you to use your own branding (unless you opted for a free version). This is entirely your choice, but personally, I advocate using your own branding wherever possible.

Flexible question formats

You are going to need your kiosk or digital intake software to allow you to create questions in any format that you want. Almost like you do it in your current PDF/word document. Most vendors do allow you to do this and this part really differentiates the kids from the big boys. Make sure your vendor supports it.

Mobile-friendly

I strongly believe (much like the rest of the research shows) that most patients are living in a mobile world these days and that this trend will only continue further. While creation of the forms need to be desktop friendly (since you are not going to do this every day), the patients should have the forms in a mobile friendly format. In other words, you want to capture a patient’s cell phone information and you want to have a relationship with their mobile devices. That only strengthens your relationship with them and allows you to optimize your business even further (plus helps you with care management). Make sure your vendor has mobile friendly forms or supports mobile apps.

Include reminder opt-in in your form

Again, following my marketing driven business mindset, I strongly recommend this feature (and to make this part and parcel of your practice). I suggest that patients be given an option to opt-out of a reminder service and that by default all patients using this service should opt-in while they are filling out the form.

Customize reminder message

Most patients will not fill out all the information at the same time and won’t complete the form immediately. What your software needs to do is to gently remind them (nudge them if you will) to fill out the remaining information before they come in to visit you. I have seen some vendors sending out generic reminder messages. The ability to customize reminder messages is crucial (in my book).

SMS, voice or email

These are not hard to do these days (at all). Services like AWS, Azure, Twilio etc allow you to easily send reminders and notifications via SMS, voice or email. Use them ! Your vendor should support these options. Personally, I feel that these options make the difference between patients conforming to your business’ processes vs not.

Sync with your Google calendar

Come on… in these busy days, even you use a google calendar (or some other calendar) on your phone. Don’t you? Don’t you hate it when you get a registration confirmation and cannot easily sync that event to your phone’s calendar? Think about it – it isn’t very hard to do (from a software POV). Your vendor should support these.

Recurring Appointments

Depending on the kind of practice you run, this becomes quite important. Recurring appointments means recurring revenues and that means a full schedule. Never miss this opportunity! I have seen several vendors not being able to support recurring appointments – maybe they don’t see the value in being able to set up multiple bookings up front? Push for this (again, depending on your business).

Custom cancellation policy

You should be able to customize your cancellation policy and keep it updated at all times. Your patients should be able to view the cancellation policy that your business provides at all times.

Welcome Email Sender

This is, a patient engagement feature that I push for and more importantly, a very important part of your patient relationship management process. Think about it – whenever you sign up for any service online, don’t you get a welcome email that tells you about their company, their business, what you can achieve by using their service, how to use their service etc? Every industry knows that this is a crucial step in creating a relationship with their customer. Embrace it.

Track Registration Progress

As I mentioned before, not every patient is going to sit through 20 pages of your patient registration packet in one shot. They are going to fill out parts of that questionnaire and keep coming back to it.. If you remind them to. Your kiosk or digital intake software should really be doing the heavy lifting of tracking registration progress and be sending out reminders to patient to fill out the rest.

Other Features

I believe that patient intake should really allow for further patient engagement and care management as well, but I am going to reserve my opinions for another post. A few things that I consider important are as below (You can find a similar list on Capterra as well)

  • Care Planning
  • Messaging
  • Mobile Access
  • Patient Education
  • Personal Health Record
  • Progress Tracking
  • Self Management
  • Bill Payment
  • Lab Results
  • Prescription Renewals
  • Secure Messaging
  • Video Consultations
  • EHR-Agnostic
  • Care Plans
  • Care Summaries

Want to consider non medical intake forms software available that are mostly free and that can be customized?

Here are a few options

Platform NameFormsiteEmailmeformCognito formsZohoJotform123contactformWufoo
Features
Forms5UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited555
Fields50Unlimited1010
Results per form10
Storage50 MB100 MB100 MB100 MB
Secure formsYes
Form Views1000
Reports3UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
Ad Free
Users1111111
Total No. Submission Storage500
Results PDFs
Workflows
Security compliant
Submissions / Month10050010,000100100100
Payments IntegrationYes
Receive Payments1
SSL + Field EncryptionYes
3rd Party Apps integrationYes
Live Chat Support
Built-in and Custom ThemesYes
Domain aliasing
API Requests100 per day100
Custom Logo
Redirects
“Form Closed” Message
Google Analytics Tracking
PricingFreeFreeFree$ 10FreeFreeFree

Where do I go from here?

If your interest is piqued in examining the feasibility of digital intake platforms or kiosks, the next step would be to reach out to your EMR/PM account manager. Your EMR vendor may have an integrated kiosk that can be purchased affordably, or they may have already negotiated a strong integration with a preferred kiosk vendor.

If that is not the case, there are many vendors that can be found via Google (more than what I have listed above).

For most practices, there is a lot of efficiency to gain (and potential patient satisfaction upsides) to moving away from the deluge of scanned images and PDFs stored in the patient documentation section of a practice’s EMR and, instead, using technology to discreetly collect patient-generated information.