At VisionFirst Eye Center in Birmingham, Ala., our organization’s move toward digital transformation was prompted by a desire to replace our clinics’ heavy reliance on paper.
In 2014, VisionFirst had grown from three clinics to four, serving an additional 3,000 patients per year.
The amount of paper we used at our clinics had long been a source of concern, both in terms of expense and the manual labor involved in scanning documents and inputting handwritten information into our system. Meanwhile, check-in times for VisionFirst’s approximately 170 patients per day averaged 25 minutes, largely due to paper-based processes.
We knew we needed to boost the efficiency of our front-office processes if we were to maintain high levels of service.
In 2015, I attended an American Academy of Ophthalmology conference and learned how digital check-in had not only improved check-in times for one Atlanta-based clinic, but also drove down paper costs by $1.55 per patient. It was a process I felt our clinic could benefit from as well.
IT TOOK SOME PERSUASION
Upon returning home I presented the idea to our physicians and team at VisionFirst. Staff were excited by the potential to eliminate manual form scanning, which was tedious and time consuming. However, there were still concerns to overcome.
Initially, staff feared the new tool would lead to workforce reductions. We decided to transition some billing duties to front-desk staff who would be impacted by the self-service platform to ease staff concerns. Doing so would also provide greater value for our practice.
Bringing physicians on board proved more challenging, as doctors were skeptical about how much value digital check-in would add to their practice. To gain their support, we offered to conduct a time study before and after implementation and share the results with physicians. We also decided to phase in the new process one clinic at a time, beginning with our largest clinic. If the results didn’t support full implementation, we would re-evaluate the initiative.
MAKING THE MOVE TO DIGITAL
In the weeks before we went live, our staff used training sessions to gain hands-on experience with the digital platform. Meanwhile, our patients received e-mails letting them know their registration experience was about to change. The e-mails highlighted the benefits of digital check-in, especially the reduced check-in times, and reminded patients to bring their driver’s license and insurance card to their next visit so both could be scanned into the new system.
Once the system went live, the impact was instant. Check-in times dropped to 10 minutes in the first week and fell to six minutes during the second week. In the following months, we introduced the self-service platform to our other clinics, with similar results.
Even the morning routine for VisionFirst techs changed after the digital check-in upgrade. Charts are processed so quickly, techs don’t even have time for their morning cup of coffee in between patients. Meanwhile, paper costs at the clinic dropped by $5,000 a year, or 15%.
Additionally, we were able to reduce a full-time employee at the front desk as a result of the streamlined workflow.
Updates to patient data automatically transfer from our self-service platform to the electronic health record, resulting in cleaner claims and reduced denials.
Today, more than 80% of patients across our locations use the self-service platform. Check-in times at our clinics average three to five minutes, depending on the patient. Returning patients usually check in within two minutes.
Front-office staff who formerly concentrated on patient check-in now handle more of the check-out process, posting charges to patient accounts. This helps us keep billing staff to a minimum.
Staff say they can’t imagine what they would do without self-service check-in and don’t want to return to manually scanning documents. In fact, they did have to do without the system for a month when our clinic switched over to a new practice management system — and staff couldn’t wait for the kiosks to be up and running again.
Below are just a few of the digital patient check-in programs that can be used in an ophthalmology clinic:
ClearWave – https://www.clearwaveinc.com
Medical Check-In – https://www.medicalcheckin.com
PatientWorks – http://www.patientworks.com
Phreesia – https://www.phreesia.com
A LASTING IMPACT
Updating antiquated ophthalmology processes is critical to engaging and retaining patients in medicine’s current business climate. Clinics can’t ignore patients’ desires to better manage their care experience, or the cost reductions available by switching to digital. Paperless processes are good for patients, staff, and the environment — and they are a solid first step toward modernizing the patient experience. OM