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New Patient Intake Forms: Avoid These 6 Mistakes

Author: Ravi Kalidindi
A doctor holds a new patient’s intake form.

Getting new patients to fill out a new patient intake form can sometimes feel like pulling teeth — and even when they’re done, forms often come back incomplete, late, or filled out incorrectly.

Sound familiar? Patient intake forms can be a nuisance, but they don’t have to be. Avoiding common pitfalls with patient intake forms, like relying heavily on kiosks or confusing patients with unclear messaging, improves patient adherence and makes collecting new patient data much simpler. 

These are some of the most common mistakes we see healthcare organizations make with their new patient intake forms. Are they lurking in yours?

Infographic: New Patient Intake Forms: Avoid These 6 Mistakes

Mistake #1: Paper and PDF Forms

Some healthcare organizations still use snail mail to send out patient intake forms, hoping patients will bring the completed paperwork to their appointments. However, many people no longer check their mailbox frequently, and most prefer not to keep track of (and possibly lose) paper. Simply put, snail mail has become an outdated, unreliable, and inefficient way to send and collect new patient intake forms.

Other organizations send patients a PDF intake form and ask them to print it, fill it out, and bring it in for their appointment. Many patients don’t have a printer at home, and even if they do, printers often fail or run out of ink. On top of that, you’re putting additional burden on the patient, asking them to go through the hassle of printing their form. Many patients won’t do this, and will instead wait to complete their forms in the office.

Of course, plenty of healthcare facilities still use old-fashioned pen and paper in the waiting room for filling out new patient intake forms. But when patients arrive right on time or late for their appointments and have pages of forms to complete, this method slows down the patient check-in process and contributes to long wait times for others.

Mistake #2: Confusing Website Messaging

One of the worst (and most common) mistakes we see with patient intake forms is confusing the patient with inconsistent website messaging. Many healthcare websites have a “Patient Resources” page filled with outdated PDF forms, digital form links that aren’t unique to the patient, and old instructions that don’t apply to the patient’s specific needs.

Instead, we’ve found that setting expectations with the patient when they book their first appointment is the best course of action:

  • When a patient calls the office to book an appointment, the scheduling staff should tell them what to expect and what to bring to their appointment. For example, they might say, “If you’re a new patient, you’ll receive a link to fill out some required forms. Please complete them prior to your appointment. Minor patients must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Please bring any previous blood work and test results to your appointment.”
  • Then, if you choose to create a “What to Expect” or “Patient Resources” page on your website, it should reiterate the same information the scheduling staff member walks through with patients over the phone. If a patient refers back to your website after the phone call, it should jog their memory — not leave them feeling more confused.

After your staff tells the patient what to expect, you can send an email or text with a link to complete their forms. The link should be unique to the patient and their specific appointment.

By creating a consistent, straightforward process, you avoid sending mixed messages and creating confusion, and greatly increase the rate of patient participation.

Mistake #3: Patient Portal Forms

If your EMR includes a patient portal with built-in patient forms, it may seem like an ideal replacement of your paper forms, but this is actually one of the biggest mistakes you can make with new patient intake forms.

Patient portal engagement is challenging, especially for new patients. Portals require creating and remembering login credentials which a new patient is less inclined to do just to fill out new patient forms. Portals are often not mobile-friendly, creating frustration for a patient “on the go” without time to sit down at a computer.

Some portals have mobile apps, but this also raises a hurdle of having to download and register, which discourages patient participation. In addition, portal forms are often poorly designed and more difficult to figure out than calling the office or completing forms in person. As a result, many patients opt to fill out paper forms when they arrive at the office.

Last but not least, portal forms are not very customizable or extensible to meet the unique needs that most healthcare organizations have.

Mistake #4: Kiosks and Tablets for Digital Forms

In an attempt to move away from paper forms and collect information digitally, some facilities have implemented in-office kiosks and tablets for patients to complete their intake forms.

While in theory you can ask patients to come early and complete these forms, the reality is that most patients arrive right on time or late for appointments. Patients may take longer to complete intake forms on a kiosk or tablet (since they can’t skip questions, like on a paper form). And, regardless of how long it takes, it’s happening on your time and your dime.

Kiosks and tablets don’t address the problem of slow patient workflow and long wait times caused by paper forms. In fact, in some cases, they can make these problems worse.

Mistake #5: Poorly Designed Forms

Implementing a digital patient intake solution is a step in the right direction, but poorly designed forms with repetitive or confusing questions still lead to low patient participation. The highest participation for new patient intake forms occurs when the form has clear questions with intuitive response options.

Patient participation also improves when user experience (UX) experts design patient intake forms. They know how to make layout and design decisions based on human behavior, increasing the chances of patients completing forms once they start. They consider factors like:

  • Are the questions and answer options direct and easy to understand?
  • Can patients move on if they don’t have a response to a certain question?
  • Is the text size, font, and color easy for all patients to read?
  • Will all demographics find this form easy to navigate?
  • Is this form accessible on and responsive to all devices (computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.)?

Though user experience design happens somewhat in the background, it’s a crucial part of creating forms that the majority of patients will actually fill out prior to appointments.

Mistake #6: Irrelevant or Wordy Forms

Often, healthcare facilities provide bulky packets of patient intake forms to all patients — regardless of the reason for the visit, the type of appointment, etc. This leads to irrelevant questions that leave the patient feeling confused and frustrated.

Moving to digital forms doesn’t magically solve this problem, unless the forms are dynamic.

Dynamic forms are shown or hidden based on the appointment type, provider, location, patient’s gender, age, chief complaint, their response to a question, or any other criteria. This respects the patient’s time instead of peppering them with irrelevant questions.

For example, a dynamic form wouldn’t ask a male patient filling out a new patient intake form, “When was your last mammogram?” And someone coming in with a chief complaint of elbow pain wouldn’t be asked history of present illness questions about their knee.

Quote Card: New Patient Intake Forms: Avoid These 6 Mistakes

Conclusion

Dodging these common mistakes with new patient intake forms can boost patient participation and improve the quality of responses you receive.

Simple Interact helps healthcare facilities create digital patient intake forms that are intuitive, straightforward, and easy for patients to understand and complete. If this sounds like something that would benefit your organization, contact us to request a demo of our patient intake solutions.

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