How to master patient onboarding in 3 steps

In the healthcare industry, first impressions are vital. A person's initial encounter with your facility can make or break her decision to become your patient. Healthcare is incredibly personal and often invasive, so it's critical to do whatever you can to put people at ease and lessen their burden — starting with the onboarding process.

Patient onboarding involves registering new patients and getting them oriented with your facility. If your onboarding process is clunky and outdated (i.e., it starts with a clipboard full of confusing, cumbersome paper forms), you're probably putting a damper on the patient experience and harming your first impression. However, if your onboarding process is effective, new patients should quickly understand that your organization offers convenient, timely and confidential care.

Consider the ways in which your patients interact with the world and dispense information in other circumstances. They purchase clothes, toys, and even meals online. They send text messages in lieu of voice-to-voice communication. They apply for jobs via electronic applications. They take full advantage of the convenience technology provides in every other facet of their life. Why wouldn't they expect the same from their doctor's office?

In order to improve the patient experience at your health facility, start by improving patient onboarding. Show new patients that you respect their time and privacy by taking these three steps.

1: Digital patient onboarding forms

Lose the clipboard: There's nothing more inefficient than onboarding patients with paper forms. The people in your waiting room are likely rushed, stressed, or sick — they're in no state to fill out a stack of intake forms. This means they might inadvertently omit information, and their handwriting almost certainly won't be fully legible. Then, someone from your office has to scan the form or manually enter the patient information into your database. The entire process is error-prone and tedious.

Online patient intake forms are a simpler solution. Allowing patients to complete onboarding forms online, before they ever enter your office, can do wonders for your health facility. Online forms boast higher completion rates with fewer errors and greater security. Time required for administrative processing drops dramatically, as no manual entry is required. Even better, you won't fall behind schedule when the first patient of the day is still filling out onboarding forms 20 minutes after his appointment time. Plus, digital forms can be customized for convenience, which helps to de-clutter hefty medical forms.

Your patients will also benefit. They can complete the necessary intake forms on their own time. They don't have to spend extra time in the waiting room filling out paperwork (or waiting because someone else took extra time to fill out the forms).

2: Electronic signatures

HIPAA compliance is a critical factor in patient onboarding. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 requires healthcare organizations to have safeguards in place to protect sensitive patient information. In order to meet these regulations, health facilities collect a lot of patient signatures.

New patients, in particular, may be asked to sign the following: notice of privacy practices, consent for treatment, consent for release of medical records, and more. To accelerate the processing of these consent forms, consider accepting electronic signatures. E-signatures promote paperless onboarding, streamlining the process and cutting the time and effort necessary from staff and patients.

3: Patient flow bottlenecks

Patient flow is the way your facility manages patients from check-in to check-out — from point A to point Z. If your goal is to have happy patients who feel respected by your organization, you must concern yourself with how they flow through your facility. The more efficient your flow, the more time you'll have to focus on care, and the higher your patient satisfaction will be.  

Data automation is critical to perfecting patient flow. New patients are often required to submit a heap of data — basic identifying information, insurance validation, medical history, etc. Collecting this information via online forms and it to the necessary database allows you to validate insurance and plan treatment before a patient arrives for his or her appointment. Expediting administrative tasks gets your patients in front of a care provider sooner, which sets your office up for a seamless patient flow.

About the author
Chris Byers is the CEO of Formstack, an Indianapolis-based company offering an online form and data-collection platform. Prior to Formstack, Byers co-founded an international nonprofit that was built via remote relationships among partners in Europe, Africa, and the United States.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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