What Is Patient Intake?

Learn about patient intake, why it's important and how automating the process can help healthcare organizations drive success.
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What is Patient Intake?

Patient intake is the process through which healthcare organizations collect demographic, social and clinical data, consent forms, insurance, payments and other key pieces of information from new and returning patients prior to their visit.

That umbrella term includes a wide range of tasks—everything from capturing patients’ addresses, phone numbers and email addresses; collecting medical and social history; verifying eligibility and benefits; collecting copays and balances at the time of service; gathering patient-reported outcomes data; offering patients the option to leave a card on file or set up a payment plan; collecting signed consent forms and more.

The patient intake process plays a critical role in the operational, financial and clinical success of medical practices and health systems. For instance, an efficient, streamlined intake process means faster throughput and shorter wait times. Consistently collecting at the time of service means less bad debt and increased profitability. And gathering clinical data during intake means providers are better able to care for their patients and meet their quality-improvement goals.

Patient intake also offers opportunities to engage with patients at a range of different points in their care journey and to provide a convenient, high-quality experience. That’s especially important because the intake process is often patients’ first interaction with a healthcare organization, and it sets the tone for their encounter.

But according to the research and insights firm KLAS, the patient intake process in many healthcare organizations is plagued by manual, time-consuming tasks, redundant processes and a lack of customization. 

In a report entitled, “Patient Intake Management 2018: Solutions for a More Efficient Practice,” KLAS wrote, “Many outpatient facilities still require patients to fill out paperwork at each visit, and the paperwork is often the same from patient to patient, regardless of gender, age, or reason for visiting the doctor. Clinic employees must then manually enter patients’ responses into clinical and practice management systems. The entire process takes up time that both patients and clinic employees could better spend elsewhere.”

Improving the patient intake process

In that same report, KLAS emphasized the benefits of automating the patient intake process.

“Patient intake management solutions have the potential to eliminate much of this duplicative and unnecessary work, offering integration with clinical and financial solutions and fluid question sets that can be customized to individual patients,” KLAS said in the report. “In addition to increasing efficiency, improving data capture, and boosting patient satisfaction, these solutions can also have direct financial impacts.”

For organizations that are looking for ways to provide a more modern, engaging experience to their patients, the intake process is a great place to start. As patients shoulder an ever-growing share of their healthcare costs, they’re increasingly seeking out convenience, flexibility and other service-oriented features that they’re used to encountering in other industries, such as retail, banking and travel. By eliminating redundant paperwork, offering mobile check-in and flexible payment options, and providing opportunities for engagement, patient intake solutions can provide the consumer-centric experience that patients prefer and expect.

For staff, automated patient intake solutions can reduce the manual tasks they’re required to perform, such as collecting patient balances, scanning forms or calling insurers to verify patients’ coverage. Automating those processes gives them room to focus on higher-value responsibilities, including their interactions with patients. Alleviating some of that workload and opening up staff time to focus on patients decreases burnout, boosts engagement and increases retention. And not surprisingly, the experience of staff is directly linked to the experience of patients.

A 2016 study in the Journal of Medical Practice Management found that 96% of patients’ negative online reviews of medical practices were related to service issues, such as poor staff communication or long wait times. Addressing the time-consuming processes that take staff time and attention away from patients can go a long way toward addressing that problem and ensuring that patients are engaged and satisfied.

For clinicians, automating the intake process can result in shorter wait times and fewer bottlenecks, fewer redundant data-entry tasks, and more comprehensive, actionable clinical data during the encounter.

What to look for in a patient intake solution

Not all solutions are created equal. When choosing a patient intake solution and management partner, it’s important to carefully evaluate functionalities, features and capabilities to be sure your organization selects the right solution to meet your needs. Here is a brief list of questions to help guide your search:

  • Device Options: Does the vendor offer multiple intake modalities (e.g., mobile, tablets, kiosks)?
  • Mobile Adoption: What percentage of clients have adopted the vendor’s mobile intake solution? What percentage of patients complete their registration on a mobile device?
  • Custom Patient Workflows: Can patients be presented with individualized workflows (e.g., by gender, age, reason for visit, insurance status, medical history)? Across all intake modalities?
  • Practice Customization: Can patient intake questions be customized to meet the unique needs of your organization (e.g., for each location, provider, specialty, appointment type)?
  • Insurance Verification: Does the patient intake solution automate eligibility and benefits verification in real-time and by batch? Can staff easily access copay, deductible and coinsurance information? Are results clearly displayed so staff can manage exceptions prior to and at the time of service?
  • Patient Payments Functionality: What options are available to patients for paying copays and balances (e.g., mobile, tablets, kiosks, payment plans, card on file, online payments)?
  • Card Processing: Does the patient intake solution offer better card processing options than your existing processor (e.g. full daily deposits, timely funding, competitive rates)?
  • E-cashiering: How can staff track all cash, check, and card payments and reconcile them at the end of each day? Will reports replace manual processes?
  • Consents: Can all policies (e.g., financial, privacy, clinical) be captured digitally with e-signatures during the intake process? Can they be automated to prompt patients to sign at regular time intervals (e.g., annually, bi-annually)? Is reporting available to audit consent compliance?
  • Clinical: Which patient-reported outcomes (PROs) can be included in patient intake workflows? Can the solution screen patients for social determinants of health, such as housing and transportation?
  • Patient Activation: How does the patient intake solution support quality improvement initiatives for organizations that participate in value-based/risk-based arrangements?
  • Satisfaction Surveys: Does the solution include post-visit satisfaction surveys? Are they sent out automatically, and do they include real-time reporting and analytics (e.g., by location and provider)?
  • Appointments: Can patients request or schedule appointments from your website?
  • Referrals: Can staff manage and track incoming referrals from other providers?
  • Automation: Is bi-directional integration available for your PM or EMR system? Does the demographic and clinical data already in your system pre-populate for patients to review during intake? Do updates and new data flow back into your systems?
  • PM/EMR Updates: What patient-captured data integrates discretely, what goes into a note field and what attaches as a PDF? Are consents attached as documents or flagged in systems?
  • Payment Posting: Do payments post automatically to your PM system?
  • Appointments: Can appointments be scheduled directly from the vendor solution with real-time updates to the PM system?
  • Utilization: Are you able to monitor how well the solution is being utilized across locations, staff members and modalities? Can you use the analytics to identify areas to improve the intake process?
  • Financial Performance: Are you able to track patient payments across your organization and reconcile them at the end of the day? Can you track each batch posted to your bank account?
  • Clinical Results: Is reporting or data available to meet any of your quality measures?
  • Patient Experience: Can you track patient satisfaction results by location and provider to identify areas for improvement?
  • Privacy & Security Certification: Is the vendor certified with industry-leading security organizations (i.e., HITRUST CSF, SOC 2)?
  • Payments Security: If the vendor accepts patient payments, are they Level 1 PCI-compliant? Is all payments hardware encrypted? Does the vendor have a solution for Point-to-Point Encryption (P2PE)?
  • Single Sign-On: Can the patient intake solution be integrated into your single sign-on platform for easy staff access?
  • Device and User Management: Does the solution support local device and user management?
  • Reporting: Is reporting available by location/department, and are permissions role-based?
  • Connectivity: Can the vendor support secure and automated data exchange among your key systems (e.g., PM, EMR, HIE, data warehouse, data lake)?
  • Deployment: Does the vendor have the resources and capabilities to deploy the solution across multiple locations according to your goals? Does the vendor offer train-the-trainer programs?
  • Support: Does the company offer dedicated enterprise support and implementation teams?
  • Branding: Can the solution incorporate your specific branding elements (e.g., logos)?

Learn how Phreesia helps healthcare organizations provide a modern, individualized intake experience.