What Is Patient Intake, and Why Does It Matter for a Modern Healthcare Organization?

By: Collin Couey on January 30, 2024
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Independent healthcare organizations or practices have to set themselves apart in order to attract patients. Providing a stellar patient experience is one surefire way to make sure you stand out. 

By taking the time to improve your patient intake process by utilizing technology to make the process more efficient for your staff and convenient for your patients, you make the entire practice more marketable to new patients and can even increase revenue through saved time and resources.

What is patient intake?

Patient intake is how healthcare organizations collect important patient information before their first appointment. The type of patient information on an intake form can include demographic, medical, and social data, as well as insurance and payment details, consent forms, and other items that are essential to the onboarding process. These can vary based on specialization and type of care provided.

The quicker and more thorough the intake process is, the better the entire experience will be for not only your new and existing patients but also the more efficient your staff. And by providing a better customer experience, this can help improve patient loyalty as well as employee satisfaction.

Traditional vs. modern patient intake processes

Traditionally, the patient intake process was largely manual. A patient would call to schedule an appointment. While they were in your office for the first time and before their appointment, they would hand over relevant documentation like ID and insurance information before filling out paperwork. Your staff would then take the paperwork and manually input it into your electronic medical records (EMR) system

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a patient gets called back to see the doctor before the information has all been inputted and a mistake is found. This means your staff member has to track down that patient after the appointment in order to correct or get new information which is time consuming for your staff member and frustrating for both your staff and the patient.

A more modern patient intake process utilizes technology to collect relevant and important patient information ahead of time. Once a patient books either via telephone or through an online scheduling system, they can be emailed or texted a link to begin filling out an intake form either via their phone or personal computer. 

According to our 2023 Consumer Wearable for Healthcare Survey,* the method healthcare providers used to conduct patient intake was split, with 59% of patients reporting that they filled their paperwork out by hand at their provider’s office.

Percentage of healthcare orgs that still use traditional patient intake process

Pitfalls of a traditional patient intake process

Traditional patient intake can take anywhere from five to 20 minutes. This is a lot of work to frontload before a patient’s first appointment, and the time it takes them to complete can often bleed into the allotted time your physicians have to see them. This lack of efficiency can lead to a backup that can make your entire schedule each day fall behind which can lead to a negative patient. 

Not only can it lead to a negative patient experience, but an inefficient intake process can cause increased employee burnout. With a traditional patient intake process, your staff is responsible for manually inputting information into your system. This might only take a few minutes for each patient, but when you multiply that times the number of patients you see every day, that adds up.

And let’s face it, data entry is not anyone’s favorite part of their job. You might be leaving hours of time on the table that your employees could put to better use improving patient experience or working on something that can increase your revenue.

Other pitfalls that can be avoided by moving away from traditional patient intake exist:

  • Increased chance of data entry errors: We’re human. Typos can happen when inputting information from a paper intake form to digital files, especially if your staff is distracted trying to assist patients.

  • Multiple follow-ups with patients: New patients might not bring all of the relevant documentation with them to their appointment. They might input the wrong information in the wrong spot on the intake form. If you don’t catch it immediately, that means that you have to go back to them to get the information they omitted. All of this can cause a snowballing effect throughout the day.

  • Loss of patient data: It’s easy to misplace paper forms, especially if they all look the same on your desk. When you have to move patient data from paper to digital, you introduce an unnecessary step in the patient intake process that can lead to mistakes or lost data.

Benefits of improving your patient intake processes using technology

A modern patient intake process provides a variety of benefits for healthcare organizations. Not only do you avoid many, if not all, of the common pitfalls, but you might experience efficiency improvements throughout your practice.

Some of the most common benefits of using a more modern patient intake process include the following:

  • Improved patient experience: When your patients are sent forms ahead of time, they can complete them in the comfort of their home or wherever is most convenient for them. By allowing patients to fill out forms with their phone ahead of time, you cut back on the time they have to spend in your office waiting room as well.

  • Increase overall revenue for your practice: When your staff doesn’t have to devote a significant amount of their time to manually inputting data, it leaves them more time to devote to appointments. This allows you to see more patients in a day because you don’t have to build in that 5-20 minutes patients spent filling out paperwork. 

  • Fewer errors with data: When patients are inputting their own information, you’re less likely to experience errors. Interpreting poor handwriting isn’t a problem. If patient information is missing from forms, you can send a follow-up text or email to your patient to request the specific patient information needed. 

  • Improved convenience: Offering digital intake can be a competitive advantage for you when it comes to which healthcare organization a patient chooses. As we saw earlier, nearly 60% of healthcare organizations still collect intake at the office. You can set yourself apart and provide a more convenient, seamless experience to your patients.

Use patient intake software to improve your patient intake process

You can purchase a standalone license for patient intake software that will integrate with EMR software suites, practice management systems, or patient portal

Patient intake software is very closely aligned with patient check-in kiosks, and, in many cases, this software works in conjunction with kiosk hardware. The two don't have to come as a package, though, as intake software can live on the cloud and be deployed as a web-based portal with unique logins for each of your patients.

Typically, the features you’ll find in patient intake software include some sort of dashboard, patient reminders, customizable digital patient intake forms, reporting functions, insurance validation, and document sharing.

Patient intake should be seamless and efficient

Your patient intake process should never be a pain point for your patients or your staff. If it is, you need to consider how much time is being lost by your staff or how many patients are unhappy with the service they’re being provided.

When it comes to the efficiencies that you gain with patient intake software, there’s no reason to continue using manual patient intake.

For help determining which patient intake software might be best for your business, contact our advisors. Through one-on-one conversation and personalized recommendations, Software Advice guides you through your software search. In as little as 15 minutes, our software advisors can help you pick the right software for your business needs, so you can feel confident in your choice. Click here to chat with an advisor or schedule a call.

Survey methodology

*The Software Advice 2023 Consumer Wearables Survey was conducted in September 2023. It used screeners to narrow the survey audience down to 876 patients in the U.S. who had seen a healthcare provider within the past two years and who own and use personal wearable health trackers like Apple Watch or Fitbit.