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When I meet with medical practices or large groups about their patient portal, I’m always amazed that it’s usually “one big thing” that drives their interest in the patient portal. This morning I spoke with a 14-physician orthopaedic group that was interested primarily in using the patient portal as a marketing tool. Their “one big thing” was using their website to do a better job of converting visitors on their website into actual new patients.

But what I find is probably the most common “one big thing” is online registration. It seems almost unthinkable that when you go to a doctor’s office you still fill out all your registration forms by hand. And yet, that’s the healthcare world we live in. At the recent Winter Health IT Summit I attended, one heated panel member made the point that while you fill out those medical practice registration forms by hand, you can use your iPhone to place an order for a burrito at the nearest Chipotle.

The fact that Chipotle has more a sophisticated online experience than your typical medical practice is not the subject of this post. For this post, I wanted to describe how practices have solved the online registration problem to date. I’ll also mention how Omedix can help you, but I’ll put that toward the end. So let’s get started. Starting with the least high-tech and going to the most high-tech, how do medical practices handle the registration process?

Paper Forms

The lowest level of registration process is the hallowed paper office form. The patient arrives at the office — possibly with completed forms that have been mailed to them — and either hands them to the office staff or sits down to fill these out by hand with old-fashioned pen or pencil. Because the forms are usually comprehensive, the process typically takes 15 – 30 minutes.

Staff then painstakingly translate the information written on the form into the Practice Management System to fill out information in the patient’s account.

The latest 1950’s technology in the modern medical practice.

PDFs on Your Website

One of the questions I was always surprised to get when we first started building websites for medical practices is “Can we put PDF forms on our website?” It turns out that is trivially easy to do, so we don’t even charge extra for it. You just give your webmaster an electronic copy of your form, he converts it to a PDF and uploads it.

The patient can now at least access the form at their leisure. Unfortunately, they still have to fill it out by hand since the PDF is almost never enabled for online submission.

The latest 1990’s technology in the modern medical practice.

Fillable PDF’s

About 1 out of 250 times, we run across a practice that has paid someone — in some cases Omedix! — to enable their PDF’s to be fillable. The result is that it’s the same old PDF form, but the patient can now type their answers directly on the form on their computer.

This is a great convenience of course, but there’s a reason the fillable PDF never really took off: The PDF can only be printed. Since it can’t be saved unless you have expensive Adobe Acrobat software, the general concern is that this is going to cause more frustration than it reduces.

A rare bird, and there’s a reason it hasn’t thrived in the wild.

Online Registration

At last we enter the 2000’s! With online registration, your patients go to your website and typically log into a patient portal. On the patient portal they fill out “online forms”. This is a version of your old paper registration forms, but rendered online.

The patient fills out one or more forms and presses submit. Your staff then have a separate practice portal to log into to view the submission. The forms don’t integrate with anything, but they do show up in your practice portal. It’s not the perfect solution but it’s better than paper & pencil.

Even though this isn’t the ultimate solution, there are still some horror stories out there. The biggest problem is that some vendors have created an “online forms” solution but haven’t optimized their solution to render the kinds of forms your patient registration forms look like. The result is that the forms look bad. Really bad.

When a patient sees an endless wasteland of 100 sequential fields to fill in, it’s a bit daunting and they revert back to the comfort of paper. The other area where vendors often drop the ball is how the form renders for the practice. Doctors are accustomed to seeing the medical history form a certain way. Staff are accustomed to seeing demographic forms a certain way. When these patterns get interrupted, people’s first reaction is frustration. These issues can be overcome, but be sure to watch out for them.

It’s not quite the Apple Store, but your practice can now go electronic with patient registration.

By the way, Omedix can help you with online registration. If you’d like to learn more, feel free to Contact Us.

Online Registration with Integration

This is the exact same solution as described above, but with one beautiful enhancement: some portion of the forms patients have filled out can be sent directly to your Practice Management and/or EHR system.

We have online forms and we have backend integration. Life is at last very good.

Omedix can also help you with online registration with integration. If you’d like to learn more, feel free to Contact Us.

Final Thoughts

Amazingly, the story’s not quite over with this blog post. There is a complementary class of solutions to online registration, but we’ll leave that for a future blog post.