The Business Case For Moving To Online Patient Forms Management

Kathy Douglas
October 1, 2021
It is confusing, in today’s world, why more physician practices, clinics and therapy providers have not made the leap from paper to online patient forms management. The world is online, has been for a long time now, yet outdated practices are still commonplace in healthcare facilities. Who doesn’t want to simplify workflow, save time, save money, and boost patient and staff satisfaction? These well known benefits are easily achievable and affordable. So let’s explore the barriers and benefits of moving to e-form automation and see if that doesn’t help clear things up.
The Reality and Burden of Forms

Nobody likes paperwork, but that doesn’t change the need for information. That need places a burden on both patients and the practices that serve them. That burden can be big or small depending on the approach that is taken to gathering and maintaining patient information. Filling out forms has been an on-going irritation for patients and staff. Over the last many decades, patients have been asked to come in early for appointments spending extra time, often in crowded waiting rooms, with a clipboard full of forms many of which require writing the same information over and over. Staff know that one patient with unfilled forms can slow down the schedule, creating delays, longer waits and extended work hours for everyone.

Shifting the Burden is Not the Answer

The idea of emailing PDFs of forms to patients ahead of time was an interesting step in the effort to improve the process. In reality, it has simply shifted the organizational burden to the patient, causing them even more frustration. Now the patient has to find access to a printer, use their own paper supply and remember to bring the completed forms with them to the office. Leaving them on the kitchen table simply means they will repeat the whole process upon arrival creating delays in patient flow and more unhappy patients that follow.

Today’s Patients Expect Better

In a world that has been online for decades, this whole process is simply ridiculous to the Gen Z and Millennial generations, who seek out “modern” healthcare providers. If a practice still uses paper forms, or requires printing, it’s easy to assume they are out of step with today’s world and that the care provided is as archaic as the systems they use. Other generations may feel the same, but express their feelings differently, or simply carry the burden with a grudge.

A recent study by the Lobbie Institute revealed 81% of patients surveyed prefer digital forms over paper and clipboards, with 83% stating they want to complete forms online before coming into the healthcare facility. Further, 76% of patients surveyed said that between two comparable doctors, they would pick the one that provided online forms, with half saying they would give a doctor a more favorable rating if they provided that technology. The fact is, that in today’s world, it is common knowledge that using paper-based forms is inefficient, unnecessary, environmentally unwise, and wasteful.

Staff Also Want Process Improvement

Your staff are immersed in the online world via their phones and other devices. They know traditional patient intake and registration systems that relied on waiting in crowded rooms and using printed forms and clipboards is a broken process. Many of them know there is technology to address these issues. Healthcare providers have focused on clinical systems, and rightly so, but staff also want functionality like online forms that help them with daily operations and reduce the burden of pushing paper and people around the office.

The cost of one patient showing up late and pushing back the schedule to fill out a set of forms ripples through the schedule and results in either the monetary loss due to cancelations and walkouts later in the day, or the loss of quality of life as everybody in the office works later hours. It has become relatively easy to put innovative technology in the hands of patients and staff to fill out forms online, automate check-in and streamline front-office workflow in real-time, from wherever and whenever it's needed.

It's Never Been Easier To Modernize

There is really good news here. Modernizing and streamlining your forms management has never been easier. Thanks to a convergence of advances in technology, more sophisticated application frameworks, the prevalence of Smart-phone use and business models that make it easy and affordable, there is no reason not to be enjoying the benefits of online patient forms management.

Really powerful software tools are no longer only for large organizations with strong IT departments and large capital budgets. The barriers of costs and resources have been eliminated with modern web-based applications.

The Benefits of Online Forms Management

With costs and technical issues out of the way, the benefits of forms automation are now available to all, no matter the size of your practice.

Simplified Workflow Saves Time and Money
  • The waiting room becomes more efficient and patient flow more predictable
  • Patient information is available for care providers to review prior to visit
  • Patient visits go more smoothly
  • Providers and staff have 24X7, anywhere access to patient information
  • Eliminate errors and time spent trying to decipher handwriting
  • Decrease time/costs of paper filing, tracking/management
  • Free up staff for more patient centered activities
Increase Patient Satisfaction
  • Easier for patients to complete forms at their leisure
  • No printing, losing or forgetting paperwork
  • Eliminate frustrations of duplicate forms
  • Forms are never lost
  • More efficient waiting room experiences

What To Look For When Selecting Your Forms Management Tools

To enjoy all the benefits available today, it is important to remember that not all product offerings will get you the same results. What you get may vary depending on the product you choose. Here are some things to look for.

#1. User Experience

The user experience should be at the top of your list. If the user experience is not good, your patients won’t use it and neither will your team. Poor user experiences are a key reason that adopting new tools can be hard, time consuming, expensive, and even fail. In today’s world we expect the user experience to be intuitive and extremely easy, requiring no training or user manuals. When selecting a product, carefully assess the design for its clarity and usability.

For Patients:
  • Is the layout easy to understand?
  • Is there a natural flow to the screens?
  • Can forms be completed on phones and desktops
  • Are forms easy to read, simple to understand, easy to complete
  • Consents, privacy docs, etc… can be reviewed and signed electronically
  • Is it easy to go back and change something?
  • If interrupted during completing forms, does it save up to where you were?
  • How easy is it to find your place and continue?
  • Is it easy to update content when things change?
  • Is the requirement for typing minimized?
  • Does it work on the wide range of devices Patients have, and does it have strong mobile-based features where most of their online access now occurs?
For the Office:
  • Is the application setup fast and simple?
  • Can staff learn to use it with minimal training
  • Is the layout intuitive enough to fit within the natural workflow?
  • Is there a “dashboard” that helps organize and alert staff to where their attention is needed?
  • Can staff easily review forms?
  • Is it clear when forms have not been completed or are only partially completed?
  • Are forms completion reminders to patients automated?
  • Is there a way to flag content that the provider should pay special attention to?
#2. Data Access, Storage and Safety
  • Patient health history, lifestyle and other confidential information strongly protected
  • Is there 24X7, anywhere, access?
  • Are there backup systems in place to assure access is never interrupted?
  • Is data storage safe from disaster events?
  • Can you access your data should you choose to change vendors?
#3. Meeting Your Specific Needs
  • Be sure systems are flexible and easily configured to meet your specific needs
  • Make sure that your configuration will not be disrupted or have to be redone with upgrades
  • Choose a vendor who has a track record of listening to, and responding in a timely way, to customer needs/requests
#4. Don’t Pay for What you Don’t Need
  • Be sure the product you choose can meet your needs
  • Don’t get stuck dealing with or paying for features you don’t need
#5. No Surprises
  • No hidden costs – make sure there is transparency in costs and that everything is included – implementation, support, upgrades, etc.
#6. Support & Implementation
  • Is live support offered and if so, between what hours?
  • Is there 24/7 support for critical issues?
  • What are the contractual response times for non-critical issues?
  • What is the guaranteed up-time?
  • Do you work with a dedicated implementation person?
  • Will the vendor convert your forms for you as part of the implementation, and if so, is there an extra cost?

Barriers – There are none!

Transitioning To Online Forms Is Easy

Use this simple checklist:

Download the PDF Checklist Here

First, and foremost, determine what issues you are most trying to address. Get as much organizational feedback and buy-in as possible, from as many stake-holders as possible, to be sure you have the correct solution. Is it schedule adherence, patient or staff satisfaction through ease of submission, entry accuracy, or even safety through reduced-contact patient intake, etc? Not every vendor addresses these issues equally, and few do them all, or do them all well.

Inventory your forms and pages for each. Many online vendors use the form or page count to establish pricing (and hide hidden fees and up-charges)

Ascertain if you have the time and resources to create your own forms. They cost money to create one way or another and it is often a better value choice to go to a full-service vendor that will convert and maintain your forms for you.

Designate a resource that understands your needs to find out what your choices are and set up demonstrations for the product, while asking the important questions above.

Once you have seen the demos and gathered your options and pricing, evaluate the online form vendors and pick the one that gives you the best value for solving your issues now and for your planned needs in the future.

Know what you are signing, for how long, and what protections you have (guaranteed uptime and success, how long is your data kept, what happens if you cancel the contract, etc). Make sure in the contracting process you get a free trial or better, an opt out period if it’s not a monthly contract. Unfortunately, free trials sound great, but they often lead to implementation issues as neither side is fully motivated to drive change and ultimately you never get started seeing the benefits of the product.

Making The Switch Makes Sound Business Sense

With modern tools now available and affordable, there is no reason not to take advantage of all they have to offer. Let’s summarize the business reasons that make switching to online forms management the smart thing to do:

  • Improve patient flow
  • Decrease patient wait times
  • Decrease staff workload
  • Stay on schedule
  • Decrease errors over legibility/transcription of hand-written forms
  • Leverage data access to improve prep time and quality of visits
  • Make it easier for patients to do business with you
  • Increase patient and staff satisfaction
  • Strengthen practice image
  • Save money, increase revenues

It’s never been easier to make the transition to online patient forms management, so what is stopping your facility? We hope this article helps you and your team think about it.

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