How ditching paper and the waiting room can increase patient engagement

Embracing new technology can lead to new heights of patient engagement.

Adoption of technology by the healthcare industry has rapidly increased since the start of 2020.

A recent Google Cloud survey revealed that 45% of physicians say the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of their organization’s adoption of technology, including making tech upgrades that normally would have taken years. For example, telehealth use rose by more than 3,000% and self-service digital payments in healthcare grew 31% year-over-year.

Despite positive patient feedback and tangible ROI, however, a significant number of healthcare processes are still being conducted via pen and paper and the trusty analog telephone. In fact, up to 44% of providers still use paper charts.

Practices that have moved to a paperless environment, including leveraging electronic forms, contactless patient intake and virtual waiting rooms, are seeing a significant increase in efficiency and decrease in costs - but perhaps more importantly, a notable rise in patient engagement.

Data shows that moving paper-driven processes online meets evolving patient expectations and can support practice revenue goals, without being burdensome to providers or staff. As practices consider their priorities through the end of the year and into 2022, it’s important to evaluate whether adopting contactless solutions will help meet their goals.

Patient Preferences by the Numbers

Vaccine deployment may have led many Americans back to in-office appointments, but many consumers have retained the precautions and preferences adopted as a result of COVID-19.

A recent surveyof 2,076 U.S. adults conducted by The Harris Poll and Updox showed that 53% of consumers said they prefer to update or provide patient information to a healthcare provider via mobile phone, email or a patient portal. Interestingly, the age group most likely to prefer online forms was consumers aged 55-64.

As the COVID-19 pandemic shifted many of our day-to-day activities online, it also turned patient information preferences into expectations for many consumers—in fact, 42% of survey respondents said they expected their healthcare provider to provide electronic forms and online paperwork options.

Another cornerstone of the patient experience that has increasingly moved online in the post-COVID-19 world is the waiting room and check-in process. According to survey results, 47% of consumers also said that increased health safety was important to having a good experience as a patient. A waiting room with sick patients on the other hand, can expose patients to the coronavirus or other viruses.

Many consumers expect increased safety while waiting for their appointments, but their expectations differ on exactly how providers should achieve increased safety. For example, 52% of survey respondents expected their healthcare provider to have socially distanced waiting rooms, while 37% expected their healthcare provider to offer virtual waiting room options such as contactless or curbside check-in and contactless patient intake solutions.

Making Waiting Convenient

Patient dissatisfaction with physical waiting rooms existed well before COVID-19— a 2019 report shows that unpleasant waiting rooms were the single-most cited reason patients wouldn’t return to a healthcare facility. With COVID-19 still present, many patients want alternative options to waiting in crowded waiting rooms and potentially exposing themselves to viruses.

While social distancing in physical waiting rooms increases health safety, virtual waiting rooms give patients an additional benefit: convenience. Contactless patient intake methods like contactless or curbside check-in allow patients to check-in with their smart device before their arrival and be directed straight from their car to the evaluation room at the appropriate time.

At a time where increased health safety is vital to a good patient experience, contactless patient intake methods like virtual waiting rooms eliminate the use of dirty clipboards and pens in waiting rooms that could expose patients to viruses—even if social distancing is being practiced. It also eliminates unnecessary wait times and inefficiencies, while increasing staff safety and productivity.

When Forms Equal Better Function

A key component of contactless check-in is the use of electronic forms to record patient data. Electronic forms hold many benefits over paper forms, but five benefits stand out in particular.

  1. Safety. Electronic forms are physically safer, especially in the post-COVID-19 world. Like handling dirty clipboards in a waiting room, staff members don’t want to use pens after someone else, and they also have other priorities besides sanitizing pens and clipboards after they’ve been used.
  2. Convenience. Patients want to fill out paperwork about as much as staff want to transcribe it, and transferring those forms to an electronic medium makes filling them out far more convenient for patients. Using electronic forms, especially through a patient portal, also makes documents much more accessible to patients - and providers - than paper forms.
  3. Efficiency. The time it takes to scan or transcribe a paper form to attach it to the patient’s file or to update a record is time that could be better spent elsewhere. Information within electronic forms can be sent directly to the chart with no transcription necessary. They also eliminate the risk of human error and don’t require follow-up with a patient about illegibility or incompletion.
  4. Compliance. Electronic forms are legally safer in that they are HIPAA-compliant. It’s much tougher to misplace an electronic form with sensitive patient data than it is to misplace a paper form with the same data on it.
  5. Cost. Finally, electronic forms are far more cost-effective than paper forms. When practices can have patients complete all their consent and intake forms online without any paper to print, sign, scan and file, it is not only more time efficient, but also saves money. Going paperless can eliminate costs associated with paper, toner, redundant workflows and resources for scanning forms, transcribing information and shredding paper. Implementing virtual waiting rooms can also save practices costs associated with upkeep, supplies and sanitation.

The Bottom Line

With patient expectations transforming over the past two years, practices that optimize the patient experience are thriving. Moving from traditional waiting rooms and paper forms to using contactless patient intake methods and electronic forms improves patient engagement, but also increases efficiency and streamlines operations so practices can free up their time to focus on patient care. By implementing solutions that integrate seamlessly with existing tools, such as the EHR, telehealth platform and patient portal, a practice can also alleviate staff burden and see increased data interoperability and ROI.

Ultimately, healthcare practices will need to implement solutions that meet and exceed patient expectations while increasing efficiency in order to improve the bottom line. Leveraging convenient, easy to use technologies will be important to meeting healthcare practice goals and achieving long-term success in the post-COVID-19 world.

About the Author

Zach Zettler, president of Updox, an EverCommerce solution, is a proven software industry executive with more than 25 years of successful sales, marketing, and operations leadership experience with a focus on driving innovation and growth in the health & human services software space. Zettler previously held senior business development and operational leadership positions with other fast-growing technology companies.

¹Forward-Looking Statements: This article contains forward-looking statements, including statements about expected trends in the healthcare industry. These statements are neither promises nor guarantees, but involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other important factors that may cause actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different, including the factors described in EverCommerce’s filings with the SEC. Any such forward-looking statements represent management's estimates as of the date of this article. While EverCommerce may elect to update such forward-looking statements at some point in the future, it disclaims any obligation to do so, even if subsequent events cause its views to change.