The Ultimate Guide to Patient Intake

Learn how a modern, digital patient intake process can save your staff time and streamline the process for your patients, allowing you to offer seamless onboarding.

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Your patient intake process should be designed with both parties in mind - your patients and practice, of course! With the goal of bringing more patients onboard with minimum resistance while ensuring proper compliance, you want to offer a streamlined and familiar experience for your patients that fits your needs.

This ultimate guide carries everything you need to know when it comes to onboarding a patient, including how to save your staff valuable time in their day and maintain a razor-sharp focus on delivering a 5-star patient experience

  • What is patient intake?
  • The patient intake process: traditional vs modern
  • How to improve the patient intake process: strategies for success
  • Moving forward: how digital patient intake forms can streamline onboarding
  • What to look for in a patient intake solution
  • Top 5 patient intake solutions for onboarding patients fast and efficiently

Let’s begin by defining some common terms, pitfalls, and strategies to better understand the patient intake process.

What is patient intake?

Patient intake is the method by which healthcare practices collect patient information, including demographic, medical, and social data; insurance and payment details; and consent forms that are essential to the onboarding process.

As the first touchpoint, patient intake is crucial from an operational, financial, and clinical standpoint of your healthcare practice. This gives your practice the opportunity to set the expectation for a streamlined and smooth experience that your patients can easily get on board with. Since you can’t avoid collecting this information, it’s best to make the patient intake process as seamless and efficient as possible - both for patients and the practice.

Why an efficient patient intake process is so important

The intake process sets the tone for your practice when building new relationships with your patients. If you lose patients at this stage, you’ve wasted all of your marketing efforts ($150 - $300 acquiring a patient) only to lose out on the new patient at the last minute. As the final step in acquiring a patient, your onboarding process must be fast, efficient, and easy to complete. Here’s why it matters:

The patient intake process: traditional vs modern

Fully understanding the onboarding process comes with a learning curve that may require your practice to go through multiple iterations, collecting feedback and making changes to satisfy the needs of both your patients and your staff. While your patients hope for convenience and ease of sharing their health information, your staff aims to have all the data stored securely in one place.

To show you the difference a patient intake solution can make, we’ll compare traditional and modern patient intake methods.

Traditional patient intake process

The traditional patient intake process is a time-consuming, convoluted process that requires significant paperwork and collecting proof of ID. This can mean a lot of back-and-forth between patients and the practice to determine all required information is on file.

As you can see above, in the traditional onboarding process, patients need to book via calling the practice and come into the office to complete onboarding and provide proper documentation. All the documents provided need to be reviewed in real-time, and then input into the file, adding an entire in-office onboarding process for new patients.

Below, we’ll cover some of the common problems with this traditional patient intake. After that, we’ll explore how digital forms revamp the entire patient intake journey.

Common pitfalls of traditional patient intake

Traditional patient intake is a thing of the past. Most modern healthcare practices have made the switch to digital, because they know that’s the future. Listed below are some of the common pain points that practices that still use traditional paper-based forms to onboard patients face.

  • Manual data entry is time consuming : Once your staff collects intake forms, they have to spend time entering the information in their system instead of attending to patients visiting your office.
  • Higher chance of data entry errors: Making typos and missing out on entering information is a highly likely scenario for staff who are dividing their attention between inputting data and manning the front desk and the phone.
  • Inaccurate information: Patients filling out paper forms can choose to skip questions that won’t be looked at by your staff until they start manually entering their information on the system. This adds to the inefficiency in collecting patient health data and adversely affects the patient experience.
  • Loss of data: Paper forms can get lost due to improper filing, theft, fire, or other natural calamities. Quality can also deteriorate over time, which is not a concern with digital forms.
  • Poorly designed forms: Whether your forms fail to provide enough space for your patients to fill out their information or they just have illegible handwriting, it is your staff who has to make sense of it and use what they receive. Information such as addresses are often not received in standardized formats, which can lead to inaccurate records.
  • Multiple follow-ups: Without guided, digital intake forms, it’s more likely that information is missed or submitted improperly, requiring multiple follow-ups to have them completed. If patients forget essential documents, ID proof, or insurance information, they may not be able to complete intake fully, resulting in follow-us and delays in care.
  • Unavailability of documents: Your patients may forget to carry their insurance papers, driver’s license, or photo ID into the office with them. Your practice is dependent on their ability to remember to bring all the necessary documents before they can complete the onboarding process properly. While you may be able to proceed with the visit, you’ll still need to follow up with them to complete intake after the fact.

Fortunately, you can solve most of these problems by adopting a digital patient onboarding solution that automates and streamlines patient intake.

Modern patient intake process

The modern patient intake process leverages technology to take out much of the manual work involved in patient onboarding. In fact, it can digitize the entire process, eliminating the need to complete forms and provide ID in-office, instead allowing patients to submit these docs ahead of time. Staff also saves time inputting data, as information is automatically pulled from online forms to EHR systems.

As you can see above, this significantly streamlines the patient onboarding process, eliminating back-and-forth communication and simplifying the entire process for patients. Your patients have the flexibility to complete these forms on their own time, when most convenient, as opposed to having to bring everything into your office and complete intake there.

Practices that adopt modern digital intake tactics to their onboarding process find themselves having more time to focus on delivering a fantastic patient experience and not be buried under mountains of paperwork. As patients can submit their health information and documents digitally from the convenience of their device, you can be assured of a quicker turnaround time that directly speaks to the success of your acquisition efforts.

Why a modern patient intake process is superior

In today’s times, traditional onboarding methods can’t keep up with the modern patient intake process that offers convenience to both your patients and your practice. Since your patients no longer walk around with a pen in their pocket (but most definitely carry their mobile phones wherever they go), they can just tap on the form link you sent to fill out the information you need.

  • Avoid patient frustration by sending intake forms ahead of time: “By adopting an electronic intake process, practices can move the focus from the waiting room to the living room,” said the patient experience experts at Mend. “Patients can complete their paperwork from their personal devices before they even step into the office.” 
  • Finalizes the conversion: Ultimately, your patients haven’t fully converted until they’ve been onboarded. If you drop the ball on the digital intake forms process, you’ve wasted all your efforts marketing to - and converting - your patients. Onboarding is the final pin in your conversion funnel, and it’s also the first step in developing your patient relationship.‍
  • Increase in revenue: As your staff is able to cut down on the time that they spend onboarding new patients, it gives you more time to devote to appointments, allowing you to process more patients in a day. With less time spent collecting data about new patients, your staff can spend more time keeping your existing patients happy.‍
  • Improve patient intake efficiency and save time: When your staff no longer has to sort through mountains of paperwork and has everything organized in one place, it frees up time to focus on enhancing the patient experience. Integrate your patient intake seamlessly with your practice management solution so you collect - and organize - data efficiently.‍
  • Eliminate errors by having patients enter their own information: Receptionists often have difficulty deciphering patient handwriting on paper forms, and it’s time-consuming to enter new patient data into their system. In fact, manual data entry can result in errors, incorrect reporting, and low productivity that results in high administrative fees. These errors can have consequences. Practices may not be able to contact a patient if they have read their phone number wrong. If a patient documents a medication allergy and someone misses it when they fill out their electronic record, the practitioner won’t be aware of a serious health concern. Incorrect billing information means practice managers have to chase down patients to get bills paid.
  • Offering convenience: If your patient has chosen your care over your competitor next door, you want to reaffirm their choice by providing a hassle-free patient onboarding process Allowing them to fill out their details from the comfort of their home offers them convenience while freeing up your staff’s time for more pressing tasks.‍
  • Setting the tone for what’s to come: As the first concrete interaction you have with your future patient, the intake process is an important moment and an opportunity to nail your first impression. It’s the perfect way to set the tone for how you conduct business and the service that you offer patients, so you’ll want to put your best foot forward.

Now that you understand the difference between the traditional and modern intake processes let’s dive into strategies that your practice can use to improve your intake process and set yourself apart from the competition.

How to improve the patient intake process: strategies for success

If your staff is struggling with your patient intake process, then it's time to make a change and embrace it. The following strategies can guide you through designing a better onboarding process so that you can focus less on paperwork and more on caring for your patients.

1. Offer an online scheduling option

Giving your patients the power to book their own appointments is the first step to improving the patient onboarding process. Not only does it reduce the pressure on your front office staff to manage appointment bookings, but it also allows your patients to discover your practice and your services through your website even before they enter your office.

Scheduling an appointment is the first touchpoint that you have with your patients, which sets the tone and expectations for the experience that is to follow. If your patients find the booking process tedious and lengthy, the chances of drop-off are a lot higher. With NexHealth’s 1-Click booking system, your patients are shown embedded time-slots in an email or text message and a pre-filled form with their existing information, which reduces the entire process to just one tap. This means you can schedule more appointments in a day, and save your staff several hours of data entry in the process. 

2. Digital HIPAA-compliant online forms

HIPAA-compliant online forms are designed to collect patient data digitally, ensuring data is securely collected and stored by staff. Digital Forms including medical history, HIPAA, and consent are automatically sent out to patients before their appointment to be filled out from their own device at home. The information filled out is then synced directly into the family file of your EHR, eliminating the need for your staff to process, file, and manage confidential and protected information about your patients. With NexHealth, Digital Forms are:

  • Accessible: Digital intake forms can be easily opened from the patient’s preferred device and submitted irrespective of your office hours.
  • Accurate: By submitting forms digitally, your patients can’t skip questions that are necessary. Autofill and autocomplete features also reduce typos and input errors, and ensure that your practice receives data in a standardized format.
  • Paperless: Digital intake forms allow patients to upload soft copies of their ID proofs and documents, eliminating the need to carry and submit a physical copy at the office.
  • Automatic: Once digital intake forms are submitted, the responses automatically integrate with your practice management software, eliminating your staff’s need to perform any manual data entry.

Your staff is able to reclaim valuable time in their day as they no longer have to waste time maintaining files and data entry. Instead, they can focus on delivering a modern patient experience that keeps patients satisfied.

3. Two-way communication

When you offer an open line of communication to your patients, you are letting your patients know that you care about their well-being and how valuable they are to your practice. Understanding that your patients may have different preferences when it comes to modes of communication is key. Thus, as a business, when you offer them secure patient messaging alternatives like SMS and email, you are maximizing your patient access and making your patients feel comfortable under your care.

Text messaging and emails significantly contribute to your marketing efforts and allow you to share announcements about your practice when your patients are ready to listen. NexHealth works as an all-in-one patient communication and management platform with key features like reminders, recalls, secure messaging, and custom marketing campaigns and templates designed to ensure patient engagement.

4. Virtual Waitlist

When onboarding new patients, it’s important to showcase the level of care and service that you can offer. What better way to impress a new customer than to get them in for a last-minute, high-priority appointment right after they’ve signed on as a patient?

NexHealth’s ASAP List feature automatically sends outreach to patients via text to fill gaps in your schedule. This gives you a chance to get a new patient in right away if possible, and a chance to impress them. Even better, this saves your staff hours of work, reduces idle hours throughout the day, and eliminates the stress of filling in missed appointments and managing all outbound communication.

5. Build a strong online reputation

2018 NRC Health study found that nearly 60% of patients selected a doctor based on their positive reviews and that the same amount of people avoided a doctor based on negative reviews. With such a heavy reliance on online reviews, it’s more important than ever to automate the review request process in order to receive as many Google reviews from patients as possible. By designing an efficient and straightforward way for patients to share this data, you can get patients cared for faster and efficiently. When this happens, you have happy and satisfied patients who won’t hesitate to talk about your services.

6. Collecting insurance and payment information

Since your patients use online payments and upload their documents in other spheres of their life, they expect the same level of convenience with their healthcare provider too. If your digital intake form can verify and collect insurance and payment details (the way NexHealth does), you can streamline the payment process. Having this information on file saves your patients’ and staff time on future visits.

Practices using NexHealth can send an automated text or email to patients when their payment is due so that they can securely pay without the need to create any login or password. The convenience of contactless payments and authorizing insurance claims saves your staff time and additional paperwork that allows them to focus on tasks that contribute to the growth of your practice.

7. Follow up with patients for re-care

After your patient's first appointment, you can automate follow-ups to ensure they return to you for their future care. Send patients an appreciation note, thanking them for joining your practice. Include links to your social media accounts and other resources that showcase the value that you offer your new patient.

Another best practice is to integrate patients that drop off into a recall process so that those that abandon during intake are reminded to complete the process. For those that have completed the onboarding process, your task now shifts to retaining your patients and offering incredible care.

8. Review your processes and make adjustments

Just like any process that gets better with practice and tweaks, onboarding patients also calls for reviews from time to time. Once you have a clear understanding of the intake process, have collected feedback about any friction that is coming in their way to complete it, or have noticed a delay in form submission, you can make adjustments to get a near-perfect onboarding process.

NexHealth gives your practice a powerful dashboard that measures KPIs such as form drop-offs, bookings, cancellations, satisfaction, and other valuable insights that give you a clear picture of how your patients are engaging with your practice. By reviewing these numbers from time to time, you can address issues immediately and keep patients from falling through the cracks.

Moving forward: how digital patient intake forms can streamline onboarding

If your practice is considering switching to digital patient intake forms over the traditional method, you can be assured of smooth and slick onboarding. Let us begin by understanding what they offer and how you can benefit from adopting this process.

What is an online patient intake form?

An online patient intake form is a digital onboarding method that enables healthcare practices to capture essential patient details. These paperless forms are made with HIPAA-compliant tools that let you digitize your existing form or modify a template to incorporate your brand guidelines.

Collect essential patient information with ease

When designing your digital patient intake form, you want to capture all details that are essential to begin your patient’s treatment. You can use this checklist below to make sure you’ve covered everything.

  • Personal details: This is the first part of the form that captures all essential patient data like full name, phone number, email address, home address, date of birth, gender, and preferred contact method.
  • Demographic information: Collecting demographic data like the patient’s age, occupation, marital status, and location give the health practitioner a little more insight into the type of lifestyle risks the patient is exposed to.
  • Medical history: Asking your patients to declare all their previous health conditions will help you get a complete picture, that is essential before they start care with you. You want to be as comprehensive and detailed as you can be.
  • Current medication: Check with your patients at the time of onboarding about the list of medications that they are taking to help you define the course of their treatment.
  • Past surgeries: As a healthcare practitioner, it is important to get details about any surgery that your patients had to undergo before they join your practice.
  • Lifestyle information: By getting a sense of the type of lifestyle they lead, you will get a better understanding of their habits, likes and dislikes, and the nature of work.
  • Payment details: In this section of the intake form you can ask your patients to submit their insurance provider details, how they intend to pay for the treatment, and get their credit card details.
  • Documentation: This includes uploading essential documents like ID proofs, insurance card details, and photos, instead of having to submit physical copies of the same.
  • Digital signature: To complete the intake process, collecting patients’ digital signatures gives you consent to use their information to begin their treatment and complete the onboarding process.

For a more detailed list of questions, check out our guide on creating new patient intake forms.

Top benefits of using digital patient intake forms

Digital patient intake forms are designed to streamline your onboarding process and make data collection look hassle-free. Below we cover some of the main benefits of using digital patient intake forms:

  • Paperless: Having a digital intake form saves your staff the trouble of maintaining physical files and copies of documents. You not only save over $500/mo in paper costs, but also do your part in saving the environment and going green.
  • No manual data entry: Your staff can save hours of time in their day, as they can eliminate data entry chores by simply sending a form link to patients to capture their health information.
  • Better accuracy: By sending out digital patient intake forms the chance of receiving completed forms is a lot higher than the input from a paper-based form. Digital forms provide a guided experience, can have sections that are required for completion (ensuring info isn’t omitted), can autocorrect errors, and can even ensure information is collected in standardized formats. This ensures that information collected is accurate, complete, and ready to be used by your team.
  • Staff efficiency: Unlike paper forms that tie your patients down to your waiting room chairs, with an online patient intake form, your staff has all documentation in order even before they walk in, strengthening their first impression of your practice.
  • Better patient experience: As the first touchpoint, offering digital forms for patients to complete their onboarding creates a modern, organized, and digital-first perception of your practice.
  • Data security: All digital patient intake forms must be HIPAA-compliant, ensuring the highest level of security to avoid hefty fines and penalties.

What to look for in a patient intake solution

With the wealth of patient intake solutions that are out there, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one that fits your practice needs. In the table below, check out how NexHealth emerges as a clear winner when compared with similar solutions that offer digital patient intake.


Top 5 patient form intake solutions for onboarding patients fast and efficiently

If you are convinced about switching gears and getting onboard with digital patient intake forms for your practice, we’ve got five great solutions that can turn this dream into reality. Let us have a look:

1. NexHealth

Cost: Contact for quote

Best for: Bidirectionally integrated forms

NexHealth is a one-stop digital solution for your practice to deliver a fantastic patient experience. You get a comprehensive stack of tools to onboard patients, schedule appointments, collect feedback and payments, and send reminders so that your patients never miss their visit again.

While most practices worry about finding a patient intake solution that integrates with their PMS/EHR, NexHealth saves the day with its single API that integrates with multiple systems, making the onboarding process seamless and hassle-free for you and your patients.

2. Intiveo

Image Credit: Intiveo

Cost: Contact for quote

Best for: Sending out messages in multiple languages

Intiveo is a patient communication software that helps your practice effortlessly connect with patients through automated and customizable solutions like booking requests, digital forms, and feedback collection. Intiveo has tailormade solutions for general practice, endodontics, oral/maxillofacial, orthodontics, pediatric, and periodontics practices of any size.

3. iDentalSoft

Image Credit: iDentalSoft

Cost: Contact for quote

Best for: Eliminates the need to maintain expensive servers and IT systems

iDentalSoft is a cloud dental practice management solution that enables you to run a paperless practice. Using iDentalSoft forms, patients can submit their forms even before their appointment through their smart device, tablet, or kiosk in your waiting room.

4. OperaDDS

Image Credit: OperaDDS

Cost: $99 - $249/mo

Best for: Practices that use Dentrix, Open Dental, and OrthoTrac

OperaDDS is a paperless solution for your practice that offers HIPAA-compliant digital forms, reminders, and reviews for dental offices. Practices can easily collect intake forms that write back to your practice management system eliminating the need for any data entry.

5. Legwork

Image Credit: Legwork

Cost: Contact for quote

Best for: Practices that use Dentrix, Open Dental, and Eaglesoft

Legwork is a marketing growth platform designed specifically for the healthcare industry that helps you build a better patient experience throughout the entire patient lifecycle. Legwork’s paperless healthcare forms streamline intake and cut costs with a customizable drag-and-drop form builder.

Declutter the patient intake process with NexHealth!

Digital convenience is important from both a business interfacing and a customer experience point of view. Having your documentation in order not only sets your practice up for success but also reassures your patients that their care is in good hands. The patient intake solution that NexHealth offers has a simple and intuitive interface that can be accessed through a link sent to patients via text message or email.

Book a demo with NexHealth today to begin your digital transformation with our superior solution that is guaranteed to welcome more patients through your door.

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