Continuing our series on new and developing technologies that have proven helpful to many in the healthcare community, today we’ll take a look at electronic check-in systems. It wasn’t long ago that an electronic check-in system was really no more the name indicates—a computerized way of letting a practice’s staff know when patients arrive for their appointments. But today, these systems offer so much more. At their most basic they provide an online, real-time, method of checking in, and in many cases tracking where patients are in the process of their visit. Much like the check-in systems used by childcare facilities and churches, most electronic check-in systems these days provide comprehensive tracking, so that at any time staff can see which patients are where, wait times, who has checked in and out, and more.
But beyond the basics of check-ins and tracking, developers have created systems today that are much more comprehensive, portable, and affordable tool sets than what was available just a few years ago. Gone is the need for a kiosk with a keyboard and big clunky monitor. These days all you need is an iPad and an app and you can be up and running. Better yet, make it two or three iPad minis and you can have multiple patients filling out their information all at once and never have anyone waiting to get checked in.
Which brings up another benefit of the new patient check-in systems: the apps and software being offered today often allow the patient not only to check-in, but to do much more. For instance, many of the systems available allow the patient to:
Verify insurance eligibility, thus avoiding surprise denials of claims
Pay their co-pay using credit or debit cards, or a checking account
Fill out medical and family histories
List prescription drugs taken, allergies, etc.
Answer customized surveys and questionnaires
And on the practice side of things these newer systems allow for things like:
Direct deposit of co-pays into your bank account
The ability to track not just patients, but doctors, staff, and even devices like wheel chairs, beds, testing equipment, etc. This feature is especially helpful in hospitals and larger facilities where on-call staff or multiple wing buildings are a factor
The option to allow patients to scan a driver’s license or ID to gather basic information quickly—again this is very helpful in an emergency room or trauma clinic environment where speed and efficiency are of the utmost importanc
Customizable interfaces that allow you to determine what information you want, in what order, with what degree of specificity, etc. The ability to customize with some of these systems is almost unlimited
Costs vs. Benefits
Some might look at the above and think, yeah, but what does it cost? Maybe your paper system seems to work just fine and you’re skeptical about sinking a bunch of money into a system that just does what you already do, but with flashy new tech.
Well, you’re in luck. For the most part these systems don’t represent major investments. In fact some of them are free, meaning that your only cost is whatever you spend on hardware. An iPad Mini goes for about $300, so for less than $1k you could have a system set up with three tablets. Of course, prices vary and there are options that creep into the thousands of dollars, as well as subscription based options, but the point is that there are options, and you can spend as much or as little as makes sense for your practice.
Not only is it not necessarily expensive to implement an electronic check-in system, the reality is that you’re likely to save money by eliminating a time-consuming, often tedious, and error prone task from your staff’s list of duties. No more transcribing hand-written medical histories and questionnaire responses. No more guessing whether that’s an –n or an –h, a –g or a –p. With this system the data is only input once, directly by the patient, so time is saved and the opportunity for transmission errors is reduced. Of course, there will be some patients who don’t feel comfortable using a computerized or touch screen system, but your staff can always help them on an as needed basis, or even let them fill out the traditional form if they feel more comfortable doing so.
In addition to the time and money savings that an electronic check-in system offers, there is another incentive to make the change soon, and that is the fact that electronic medical records (EMR) are becoming mandatory. Over the next few years a series of penalties will go into effect for practices not demonstrating meaningful use of EMR. What this means is that EMR is the future for almost all practices, if it hasn’t been implemented already, and many electronic check-in systems integrate seamlessly with EMR systems. This means that as your patients check-in and fill out their medical histories, allergies, other doctors, family histories, etc. they are filling out their own EMR. So, in many cases an electronic check-in system is helping you do something that you will have to do eventually anyway, and it is doing it in an automated, integrated way that saves you several steps.
Finally, the flexibility that an electronic check-in system offers is yet another attractive feature. Do you need a bilingual check-in option? No problem. Want to collect and sort statistical data to get a better sense of how long your patients are waiting, where delays are occurring, length of an average visit, etc.? Many of these systems make that very easy. Simply put, not only are electronic check-in systems a good idea, it seems likely that they will become standard over the next few years.
So, do you have an electronic check-in system in place? What has been your experience? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Next time we’ll take a look at patient portals and how they can increase patient participation in their health management.
For now you can watch this video for a visualization of how one electronic check-in system works. eQuote does not endorse this or any other specific electronic check-in system, but provides this only as an example and for demonstration purposes.