Patient Check-In Tool Drives Benefits for Marketers

January 23, 2018

// By Jane Weber Brubaker //

christus-health-logoSometimes a technology solution adopted by healthcare administrators and clinicians produces unexpected benefits for marketers. CHRISTUS Physician Group, with operations in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and New Mexico, wanted to streamline patient check-in during office visits and improve collection of outstanding balances. To achieve these goals, the organization piloted, then implemented, a digital patient check-in solution from Epion Health, completing an enterprise-wide rollout by June 2017.

Laurie Lindsey, director of training and system support at CHRISTUS Physician Group

Laurie Lindsey, director of training and system support at CHRISTUS Physician Group

One outcome of the switch to digital check-in was a surge in email collection. “Our front desk asked for this in the past, but apparently the patients weren’t willing to give it to them,” says Laurie Lindsey, director of training and system support. “But put an iPad in front of them and they’ve all given it to us. It’s been a really interesting phenomenon.”

For marketers, email addresses offer expanded opportunities to engage with patients to drive strategic goals, and CHRISTUS Physician Group has plans to capitalize on the windfall. But email capture is only one of several positive outcomes the organization has seen since it began handing out iPads in the waiting room, and giving patients a way to interact digitally.

In this story, we’ll hear more from Lindsey about CHRISTUS Physician Group’s successes to date, and learn from Epion’s chief executive officer what’s on the roadmap for marketers in 2018.

Joe Blewitt, chief executive officer at Epion

Joe Blewitt, chief executive officer at Epion

Epion currently works exclusively through athenahealth, which is CHRISTUS Physician Group’s practice management and electronic health record platform. Epion is a partner in athenahealth’s More Disruption Please network, which extends the capabilities of the cloud-based platform by “seamlessly integrating” with other solutions.

In the coming year, Epion plans to integrate with other electronic medical record (EMR) solutions. “We’re in late discussions with two or three EMR vendors that would make sense to integrate with,” says Joe Blewitt, chief executive officer at Epion. The platform’s focus in the near term will continue to be ambulatory care settings. 

How It Works

Rather than being handed a clipboard with multiple forms to fill out, patients check in with an iPad during office visits. “Before Epion, we experienced many challenges, both for the patients and staff,” says Lindsey. “There was a lot of paperwork, and a lot of time spent entering patient data into our electronic medical record system, and we needed to free up the staff to perform more direct patient activities.”

Patients still spend the same amount of time in the office, but now more of it is spent engaging in meaningful conversations with clinical staff and physicians. Ninety-four percent of patients report that they are “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the new process.

Improved Collections

The physician group’s per-encounter collections have made impressive gains. Bob Karl, chief financial officer of CHRISTUS Physician Group, stated in a press release in August that collections per encounter had increased 3.5 percent, noting that this metric alone had paid for the solution five times over. Lindsey reports that the increase in collections has now climbed to 4.1 percent.

Front-office staff currently handle the actual collections, but credit card payment will be available soon. The iPad displays detailed information about outstanding balances. Blewitt says, “We basically show a mini-EOB where we summarize the payments that have occurred and show the patient that the money is due, so that helps the conversation a lot.” Within weeks, Epion will be deploying new credit card swipers, embedded in a protective case around the iPads. Lindsey foresees additional improvements to collections with the new payment options.

Expanded Opportunities to Engage with Patients

Brooke Newton, marketing director at CHRISTUS Physician Group

Brooke Newton, marketing director at CHRISTUS Physician Group

CHRISTUS Physician Group reported significant improvements in email collections, patient portal sign-ups, opt-ins for text messages, and consent documents. “A very common number that we get to is 35 to 40 percent more email addresses than before using our service,” says Blewitt. It has been even higher, depending on where the organization is starting. “I just saw a report from another client where we increased their email capture by 80 percent. That’s the unusual case, but it definitely happens,” he says.

Brooke Newton, marketing director at CHRISTUS Physician Group, plans to use the email addresses for marketing purposes in the near future. “With the opportunity to gather more email addresses we will be able to communicate and market to patients based upon their desire to get back to healthy. It’s all about making sure patients take control of their healthcare.”

Flexible Features for Marketers and Clinicians

Marketers as well as clinicians can take advantage of an announcement feature within the platform as patients are using the iPads. Epion plans to expand this feature in 2018. “We’re building out additional functionality to give our practices the ability to do some marketing or education,” says Blewitt.

Blewitt also anticipates extending the use of other existing functionality. The platform enables office staff to gather insurance information ahead of appointments using secure two-way messaging. “We send a text message to patients when they book their appointment, and depending on when they last updated their insurance information, we’ll ask them to take a picture of the insurance card front and back,” Blewitt says. “We currently use it to gather insurance information, but it could be configured for other uses.”

Epion clients have been able to accelerate portal adoption through the platform. “We have very big increases in portal registration once a patient comes through our system, in the 30 to 40 percent range,” says Blewitt. “We send a secure link, and the patient enters two-factor authentication to gain access to a secure environment.”

Resilience During a Natural Disaster

CHRISTUS Physician Group’s expanded ability to communicate with patients via email, text, and through the patient portal enabled physicians in the Beaumont area to continue to care for patients during Hurricane Harvey. “Our increase in email collection and portal adoption afforded those physicians who had connectivity and electricity to still be able to take care of their patients and send in prescriptions electronically and make sure patients could get a renewal if they lost them in Hurricane Harvey,” Lindsey says.

Facilitating Population Health

The Epion platform is helping the physician group drive clinical quality measures and population health. “We standardized our clinical data that we are capturing on the iPads,” says Lindsey. “It comes in already scored, and it’s in the encounter for the MA, nurse, or physician to see. The data include:

  • Past medical history
  • Whether patient is a smoker
  • GYN history (pap smear, mammogram, bone density)
  • Surgical history
  • Colonoscopy
  • PHQ-2/9 depression screening
  • STEADI Fall Risk

Technology as a Catalyst to Connect

The dynamics shift in a positive direction when organizations provide patients with well-designed, consumer-facing digital tools that open the lines of communication and make it easy for two-way interactions to occur. Regardless of where a solution originates, the benefits can spread across an organization in sometimes unexpected ways. We’ve seen other examples of this: When Memorial Hermann adopted a consumer-friendly online payment solution, online bill paying became the second-highest driver of email addresses into the system, and a major contributor to patient satisfaction.

Healthcare organizations are often depicted as siloed organizations where very little sharing of information takes place. These examples demonstrate that technology can be a synergistic catalyst, helping organizations leverage technology investments and bring down the walls between departments and divisions.

Jane Weber Brubaker is executive editor of Plain-English Health Care, a division of Plain-English Media. She directs editorial content for eHealthcare Strategy & Trends and Strategic Health Care Marketing, and serves as chair of the eHealthcare Leadership Awards. Email her at jane@plainenglishmedia.com.