Diagnosing your patient check-in process: 4 ways to improve value

Orthopedic surgeons have the fifth-highest wait times of any specialty physician group, with an average wait time of 21 minutes—and the longer the wait time, the greater the decrease in patient satisfaction, according to a 2017 report.1

Across the industry, wait times of nearly 19 minutes are standard for physician offices. The impact on patient satisfaction is significant: Physicians with five-star ratings have wait times of less than 13 minutes, while those with 22-minute wait times receive three stars, on average. When wait times approach 27 minutes, the average rating drops to two stars—and that’s bad news for spine surgeons, who held the longest wait times among specialty physicians in 2016 rankings, with wait times greater than 29 minutes.2

Inefficiencies related to patient check-in are the prime culprit. When the patient check-in process is not well-managed, physician practices not only experience decreased satisfaction, but also increased expense and lost revenue.

For example, practices with inefficient check-in processes invest more heavily in staffing on the front end and struggle to manage patient throughput. They also face greater difficulty collecting from patients after insurance has been processed due to errors in patient data, such as invalid patient contact information.

There are four patient check-in technologies physicians should consider to reduce wait times, improve revenue and enhance patient satisfaction.

Self-service check-in. An intuitive self-service check-in platform not only gives patients the feeling of managing their experience, but also reduces the need for staffing in patient registration. Additionally, such a platform significantly decreases check-in time to two minutes or less, freeing front-office staff to help patients schedule follow-up appointments and understand their at-home rehab exercises.

Yet, just 5 to 10 percent of healthcare organizations offer self-service check-in solutions, and even fewer—2 to 3 percent—offer mobile check-in solutions. Even as other industries have eliminated the need for front-office staff to manage the check-in process, the healthcare industry seems reluctant to let go of this decades-old approach.

Organizations such as UAB Medicine in Birmingham, Alabama, are leading the way toward transforming patient check-in. In April 2016, the health system installed six self-service check-in platforms in its orthopedics clinic at UAB Hospital-Highlands. On the day the platform went live, more than 200 patients used the self-service solution—and check-in time dropped from seven minutes to three minutes, earning the hospital a “most innovative” award from UAB Medicine. Today, check-in times at the orthopedic clinic average just two minutes.

In selecting a self-service platform, organizations should look for solutions that encompass not just patient check-in, but also self-service registration prior to the point of service. While the amount of time spent at check-in will vary by specialty, physicians should focus on solutions that limit check-in time to just two minutes or less.

Real-time automated eligibility checks. Self-service check-in platforms that feature real-time automated eligibility checks increase the chances of submitting a clean claim by verifying patient insurance eligibility and benefits within seconds. When conversations with front-office staff need to take place, they are limited to a small number of patients, ensuring the most effective use of staff resources. Back-end work is reduced, collection costs are decreased, and patients start their journey with a solid understanding of their coverage and how their benefits will be applied to the services they receive.

Real-time data verification. Because patients may make a mistake in providing personal data prior to their appointment, pairing a self-service check-in platform with tools that verify patient demographic information optimizes value at patient check-in. Consider a system that can both authenticate patient demographic information—such as patient address, phone number, employer information, and ability to pay—and correctly match the data with the existing data in the physician practice management system. This enables physician practice staff to identify duplicate records or address changes and ensure patients are matched to the correct records. As a result, physicians will have valid, up-to-date information for all patients.

Point-of-service collections. Not only can patients pay co-pays and outstanding balances from previous visits, they also have ability to authorize use of their credit card to pay for current-day services. These advantages significantly increase payments at the point of service. Studies conducted by the Medical Group Management Association show co-pays account for one-fifth of physician practice revenue, yet most physician practices collect just 60 percent of co-pays.3 Providing patients with clear information about their out-of-pocket obligations at check in helps decrease the anxiety of the visit while improving point-of-service collections. It also opens the door for staff to talk with patients about payment plans and resources that may be available based on income level.

An investment in revamping patient check-in processes is an investment in the future of orthopedic groups and other specialty physician organizations. Adopting an intuitive self-service platform elevates the patient experience while saving time and money—a critical combination in the move toward value-based care and payment.


1. http://www.vitals.com/about/wait-time

2. http://hitconsultant.net/2016/03/24/report-patient-satisfaction-tanks-20-minute-doctor-wait-time/

3. http://www.mgma.com/blog/a-primer-on-the-physician-billing-process

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