Healthcare News & Insights

Anatomy of a paperless patient onboarding process

Thanks in large part to technology and the culture of convenience and efficiency it has evoked, the healthcare industry is shifting its focus to the patient experience. As a result, healthcare providers are embracing available technologies to engage patients at every touchpoint and foster a quality experience. This falls in line with the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), which establishes a new Medicare payment system based on the quality and effectiveness of a provider’s care. In this guest post, Chris Byers, CEO of an Indianapolis-based company offering an online form and data-collection platform, describes in detail the elements necessary for a prime patient experience.

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Three key elements go into creating a prime experience for patients:

  • respecting patients’ time and privacy
  • meeting patients’ convenience expectations, and
  • establishing good communication practices.

This means giving patients easy access to forms and health information, putting necessary safeguards in place to protect patient information, offering timely appointment scheduling and keeping wait times down. Succeeding in any of these areas is dependent on critical behind-the-scenes workflow processes. The most important of these processes is arguably the patient onboarding workflow, which establishes patients’ first impression of your facility.

Patient onboarding is the process of getting new patients registered and oriented with your healthcare organization. If your onboarding process is confusing or cumbersome (and it is if it starts with a clipboard full of paper forms), your quest to give patients a great experience is likely doomed. To get patients off to a good start, you have to develop a healthy digital workflow that includes four critical components:

  • accessible patient forms
  • data security
  • data storage and routing, and
  • patient feedback.

Let’s dissect these four components to help you develop the perfect paperless onboarding process.

Accessible patient forms

Moving your patient intake forms online should be priority one when it comes to streamlining your patient onboarding process. Besides reducing clunky paperwork processes (like filing, scanning and shredding), online forms are more accessible, more customizable and smarter.

  • Accessible – Online forms can be embedded on your website or shared via a link, giving patients easy access and the flexibility to complete and submit the forms before ever entering your facility. This added convenience saves time and creates a smoother patient flow by eliminating bottlenecks. Additionally, online forms boast higher completion rates with fewer errors, which means your administrative team can spend less time tracking down information and no time entering it manually.
  • Customizable – Online forms can quickly and easily be customized to look professional and branded, which enhances your facility’s credibility. They also come equipped with useful features that prevent them from looking too overwhelming. For example, conditional logic can be added to keep certain fields hidden if they aren’t relevant to a patient (based on the patient’s previous form selections). And dropdown lists can help de-clutter a form that has long lists of medical issues, medications or healthcare providers.
  • Smart – With online forms, you can collect and store patients’ signatures electronically, allowing patients to sign off from their mobile phone or other electronic device. Adding an e-signatures field to any online healthcare form can save your facility time and money. Online forms can also be safeguarded with a number of security features to defend electronic protected health information (ePHI) and ensure HIPAA compliance.

Data security

When using online forms to collect and store sensitive patient health information – ePHI – HIPAA compliance is a top concern. HIPAA mandates a series of administrative, technical and physical precautions that ensure the integrity and confidentiality of ePHI. This means healthcare facilities must make every effort to reduce security risks.

Protecting the information you collect from patients via online forms is an important part of your paperless patient onboarding process. Not only does it decrease your chance of a security breach, but it also boosts your credibility and helps you maintain patient trust. Here are five layers of security that can help you stay HIPAA compliant:

  • Data encryption: The standard for online data security, encryption translates the data you collect and store into a secret code that can only be decrypted via a special key or password.
  • Auditing and logging: Tracking user activity, such as account logins, can help you identify potentially destructive actions and keep an audit trail.
  • Automatic session timeout: To minimize chances of sensitive data sitting open on an idle device, user sessions can be set to timeout after a specified period of inactivity.
  • Access control: By setting up user permissions for your online form account, you can ensure that the data is accessed only by authorized users.
  • Security maintenance: Ensuring your systems are continually updated with the latest security measures is key to maintaining HIPAA compliant status.

Data storage and routing

Securely storing and routing the ePHI you collect from patients is a key part of your paperless patient onboarding process. Automating these tasks can significantly streamline your workflow and boost your data accuracy – saving you time and headaches. Here’s how:

  • Data storage – New patients are typically required to submit a heap of data, such as basic identifying information, medical history and insurance verification. Collecting this information with online forms allows you to immediately house the data in a secure database. As soon as a patient hits submit, his or her information enters the necessary database, and authorized users can access it to validate insurance or plan treatment.
  • Routing – Using secure measures to automatically send ePHI to necessary parties or apps can help with patient flow (i.e., how patients move from check-in to check-out at a facility). It can also cut down on data errors because the information doesn’t have to be manually transferred from point A to point B. Data routing can take a couple different forms:
    • Email: Upon submission, a basic notification email can be sent to one or a number of individuals to let them know new data is available in the database. These emails can include a link to the submission information in the database. Another option is to use email SMTP, which provides the added bonus of including the submission data directly in the email (because it’s sent through a private server).
    • Third-party systems: If the connections are HIPAA compliant, submission data can also be routed to third-party applications via integrations or API and webhooks. With a CRM integrationyou can pass ePHI from an online form to a CRM to create and update patient records.

Patient feedback

Once a patient’s information has been routed to the appropriate location and he or she has been seen by the necessary provider, it’s time to find out about the patient’s experience. When all is said and done, the best way to improve your patient onboarding and ensure a positive experience is to talk to patients.

After a patient’s first visit, you can send out a patient satisfaction survey to find out what went well and what could have gone better. Using the same HIPAA compliant online forms you used to collect the patient’s initial registration information, you can store patient feedback in a secure database and analyze it for trends. Gathering patient feedback on your digital onboarding workflow can help you iterate on the process to ensure you’re continually working toward the ultimate goal of providing a high-quality experience for all patients.

If you’re looking to improve the patient experience at your facility, start by creating a paperless patient onboarding process. Health care can be personal and invasive, so it’s important to put people at ease and lessen their burden from day one. Adopting online healthcare forms can do just that by saving time for you and your patients and protecting ePHI through seamless data storage and routing, and enhanced security features.

Chris Byers is the CEO of Formstack, an Indianapolis-based company offering an online form and data-collection platform.

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