Practice Notes

What your practice can learn from the airport: The power of self-service check-in

by Tiffany Chan

There’s a 20% chance that the last time you arrived for a flight, you used a self-service kiosk to check in. Self-service kiosks reduce wait times, improve staff efficiency, and satisfy a consumer demand for self-service. 

Could your practice benefit from this kind of service as well?

Interactive kiosks can be freestanding machines like the ones you find at the airport, or portable tablets, and can allow patients to do everything from update their contact information to make payments. In fact, kiosks in their most robust capabilities have been touted as a disruptive technology: some retailers, like Walmart, have installed kiosks to provide full-service care.

Realizing the benefits of self-service technology

Some practices are using self-service devices to help streamline check-in, improve collections, and secure pre-visit information.

Vanguard Urologic Institute, a specialty practice in Texas, has seen four key benefits from introducing kiosks to its waiting room:

  • Reduced wait times. When patients register upon arrival, the practice is able to electronically monitor each patient’s wait time. This enables front-desk staff to keep patients informed individually about delays. Vanguard has reduced wait times to an average of two minutes—the same amount of time it takes for a patient to check in.
  • Improved collections. Point-of-service collections have improved by front-loading and streamlining the payment request process. "The kiosk always asks" for co-pays and other bills, Vanguard says, while staff members may not be as consistent. Since patients input their information electronically, it’s also easy to quickly verify insurance eligibility.
  • Freed up time for front-desk staff. Vanguard’s front-desk staff no longer need to input standard patient data, because the patient answers basic questions about her visit and record herself. Practices can focus front-desk staff’s time on improving the patient experience by greeting patients, rounding in the wait room, and resolving the most complicated patient questions. Further, kiosks have helped Vanguard to optimize the administrative staff–to-physician ratio: only two administrative staff support eight physicians.
  • Integrated, accurate patient data. When patients input and verify their personal and basic clinical data themselves, they ensure the information’s accuracy. And since the kiosks instantly integrate patient data with the practice’s EMR, the care team can immediately review the updated patient record. Providers are provided with all necessary information before interacting with the patient.

Should your practices implement kiosks?

Kiosks aren’t right for every practice. On top of the high upfront cost of kiosk machinery, there are several factors to consider:

  • Patient willingness to adopt new technology. Not every patient will want to use kiosks—or want to use kiosks exclusively. Simple focus groups or patient polls can help you understand your panel’s propensity for using technology. For example, one medical group told us that it was originally planning to install kiosks in every practice, but heard from a patient volunteer that she would prefer human interaction during check-in. The group decided to reassess and be more deliberate in picking which practices should implement kiosks.
  • Staff support capabilities. Remember your frustration the last time you got stuck checking in at an airport kiosk with an error screen and no attendant nearby? Staff members will need to educate their patients about when and how to use kiosks and must be available to provide immediate assistance to patients if needed.
  • A streamlined user experience. Piloting and user testing is key to successful kiosk design. Minimal "clicks" should be required to input information, and data should be integrated seamlessly with the EMR and other registration and scheduling systems.

For more stories about realizing practice efficiencies like Vanguard did, see our publication, Redesigning the Primary Care Clinic.

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