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Digital check-in can boost patient satisfaction and practice efficiency amid staffing shortages

MGMA Stat - May 4, 2022

Patient Flow

Patient Access

Patient Engagement

MGMA Staff Members


Medical Group Management Association’s most recent MGMA Stat poll asked healthcare leaders, “What is your most common patient check-in method?” The majority (83%) said “front desk,” followed by “online” (7%), “phone” (3%),” “text” (3%), and “kiosk” (3%).
 
The poll was conducted May 3, 2022, with 652 applicable responses.
 
Although most practices have not moved away from front desk check-in, many practice leaders said that they offer digital check-in. Others responded that they plan to evaluate digital check-in options or add/expand these services in 2022. However, for those who don’t plan to adopt digital check-in systems, cost was a prohibitive factor.
 
For those practices that offer digital check-in, respondents noted:
  • “50% of our patients who receive a link to register and check in by phone/email do so. But we don't send these to 100% of patients and haven't implemented in all practices. We will expand this year. This is more successful than kiosks.”
  • “We use a hybrid method now. All forms are completed digitally then the patient checks in with the front desk when they arrive.”
  • “We have a digital process, tech savvy and younger patients will utilize it. Our larger retirement population prefer in-person method.”

Improving patient access and satisfaction via automation 

COVID-19 initially affected patient access by shuttering medical practices; reducing hours, resulting in fewer available appointments; and patients cancelling or not showing up for appointments for fear of infection. Many healthcare organizations used these challenges as a catalyst for innovation, particularly with automation, including self-scheduling, appointment reminders, and digital billing, as noted in a March 22, 2022, data story.
 
As consumers, patients have come to expect self-service and convenient access to care via their mobile devices. In fact, a 2018 Vitals study showed that 30% of surveyed patients left an appointment prior to being seen because of long wait times, while 20% changed providers for the same reason.
 
Although more practices likely offer digital patient check-in options, the most recent MGMA Stat poll shows that in-person check-in is still utilized the most. In fact, results reflect an  increase in in-person check-in compared to an Aug. 4, 2020, MGMA Stat poll in which 71% of respondents said patients checked in at the front desk. At the time, practices were ensuring the safety of patients, staff, and providers through frequent cleaning and disinfecting, social distancing, temperature checks and triage questions, and front desk acrylic sheet separators, but some did not yet have the capability to offer alternatives for patient check-in.
 
However, even then, innovation was sparking change, according to market researcher Rob Klein, founder and CEO, Klein & Partners. “Out of this difficult time, good things are starting to happen in terms of becoming more patient-centric. … Making things customer-centric is critical,” Klein said during a webinar in late July 2020.
 
Nearly a year later, a 2021 NextGen Healthcare poll showed that 49% of patients wanted the option to check in or complete health forms/appointment paperwork digitally before their appointment. More recently, a February 2022 Tegria poll found that 69% of patients would select another healthcare provider for more convenience. The same poll revealed that 79% of respondents wanted to be able to use technology when managing their healthcare experience. By completing their demographic, clinical and health insurance paperwork digitally, patients can reduce the amount of time spent in the doctor’s office, boosting satisfaction and loyalty.

Improving practice efficiency

Patient satisfaction often goes hand in hand with practice efficiency. Digital check-in can streamline patient flow and practice efficiency by providing patients the option to fill out paperwork and check in before their appointment, allowing providers to potentially see more patients. Prior to the pandemic, the 2020 MGMA DataDive Practice Operations reported that the average time spent in wait areas was 14 minutes for primary care specialties and surgical specialties. Temperature checks and COVID-19 screenings likely increased wait times for patients during the pandemic; though not necessarily in the waiting area.
 
For some practices, reducing wait times through automated check-in could also help mitigate the number of disruptive patients, which according to a Jan. 4, 2022, MGMA Stat poll, increased 71% in 2021. In that poll, several respondents said that wait times was one of the prominent reasons for the increase. As one respondent noted, “Tempers are short, any wait times are unacceptable once at the practice.”
 
Another way to improve efficiency is by capturing accurate patient data at registration and check-in. By self-reporting information such as their ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, social determinants of health (SDoH) and family health history before they arrive at the office, patients can help improve patient-reported outcomes (PROs). Because patients often feel more comfortable answering personal questions in the privacy of their homes, clinical documentation and outcomes can improve. 
 
Staff can also capture payer information so that they can verify coverage and help answer patients’ questions regarding financial responsibility when they see patients in the office. Additionally, copays and deductibles can be identified so staff can collect payment after the patients’ appointment. 

Saving staff time

A dearth of staff has increased the time it takes to schedule appointments and check patients in. This was reflected in a Nov. 16, 2021, MGMA Stat poll in which 30% of respondents said productivity was below expectations. As one respondent noted in that poll, “[There’s] simply not enough staff. Even with expanded hours, our wait times for patients have worsened.”
 
Many practices have noted that administrative staff are often working overtime, and in some cases, managers and providers have even had to do frontline clerical work. Automated self-service options, including self-check-in, can minimize manual check-in tasks for staff, allowing them to turn their attention to other work. By shifting to automation, practices could reduce the need for an indoor waiting area and the number of front desk staff.
 
Throughout the pandemic, many practices have been vigilant in making operational changes to address staffing shortages, as documented in a Sept. 28, 2021, MGMA Stat poll in which 76% of respondents said they had done so. MGMA members have been proactive in embracing automated systems for calling patients regarding appointments (e.g., reminders, rescheduling), instituting patient self-service technologies for checking in, and exploring moving intake work to patients, including automated options for paperwork management. 

JOIN MGMA STAT 

Our ability at MGMA to provide great resources, education and advocacy depends on a strong feedback loop with healthcare leaders. To be part of this effort, sign up for MGMA Stat and make your voice heard in our weekly polls. Sign up by texting “STAT” to 33550 or visit mgma.com/stat. Polls will be sent to your phone via text message. 
  • Do you have any best practices or success stories to share on this topic? Please let us know by emailing us at connection@mgma.com.  

 Additional resources 

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