Are self-service patient kiosks right for your practice?

January 9, 2009

The idea behind check-in kiosks is not only to increase the accuracy of patient records, but also to improve patient and staff satisfaction by decreasing tedious administrative tasks.

Key Points

Nicholas Galantino is the chief executive officer of the LoCicero Medical Group, a bustling, nine-physician practice in Tampa that's about to get a lot busier: LoCicero is in the process of aligning with two other large internal medicine practices in south Tampa.

"We thought we had a state-of-the art design for our facility, but it turned out we had a bottleneck in our waiting room," says Galantino, noting that the merger has led the group to view its operations in a new way. With eight or nine practitioners working at any given time, plus diagnostic services such as echocardiograms and ultrasounds, LoCicero had about 12 patients checking in every 15 minutes. That was overwhelming the practice's one large check-in window, which was serviced by two receptionists.

"That arrangement was giving our staff just a little more than two minutes per patient check-in, and we were struggling with that," Galantino says. "We couldn't get all the information we needed quickly enough without making patients feel like they were walking into a cattle call. Once the patients were in the back, we have individual rooms, there's plenty of staff, and the mood is very relaxed, so it was very unfortunate that we were having this situation at the front window."

LoCicero cured its bottleneck by implementing self-service check-in kiosks, a relatively new technology that is beginning to find its place in practices across the country-and making life easier for patients and staff alike.

Two years ago, Galantino visited a trade-show booth staffed by Clearwave, a Marietta, Georgia-based company that is one of several check-in kiosk manufacturers. Similar to check-in kiosks found in airports, Clearwave kiosks ask patients to swipe their insurance card or type in the information from it.

The kiosk then recognizes the patient and populates the system with his or her personal and medical information. The kiosk also sends a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 270 inquiry, regarding benefits eligibility and coverage, to the patient's insurance company.

The insurance company, in turn, sends a HIPAA 271, which tells the practice everything it needs to know about the patient, including co-pay, co-insurance, deductible, and how much of the deductible has been met.

For a quarterly fee, Clearwave provides real-time updates of insurance company information.

The idea behind check-in kiosks is not only to increase the accuracy of patient records, but also to improve patient and staff satisfaction by decreasing tedious administrative tasks. Verifying eligibility status, for example, can be a time-consuming chore for an office administrator. The kiosks, on the other hand, connect directly to more than 1,000 insurance companies and provide an automated response in 10 seconds, according to Clearwave.

Thanks to the kiosks, patient check-in at LoCicero is much smoother, and the practice has netted benefits in terms of billing. "We get the right information, so we can bill correctly, and we get our money from the insurers in a timely manner," says Galantino, whose wife, Karen LoCicero, MD, is the group's lead physician. "Another real benefit is our ability to know exactly what each patient's insurance covered, so we could get them to the right specialists or the right diagnostic center, make sure they had referrals if they need them, and so on."

BETTER BILLING

Robert Kaufmann, MD, of the Kaufmann Clinic in Atlanta agrees that kiosks have changed the face of his practice's front office-and dramatically improved third-party payments too.

Since installing the kiosks at his high-volume, two-office practice, Kaufmann has seen a 90 percent decrease in claims denials.

"To me, the biggest benefit of the kiosks is the ability to verify benefits and decrease denials," Kaufmann says. "I have one employee whose job used to be chasing claims. As her job has gotten much easier, we can now have her do other things that are more profitable for the practice."

Thanks to the decrease in staff time spent checking in patients, verifying insurance, and chasing down claims, Kaufmann has been able to increase the ancillary services his practice offers, such as in-house cholesterol checks and echocardiograms, without the need to add another employee. "If you have to add another person to do ancillaries, it really doesn't help your bottom line that much," he says.