January 28, 2008

Check-In Kiosks - patients at Clinics

Check-in for patients at clinic runs 50-to100 patients a day, lets patients check-in, verify their insurance and make a co-payment with a credit card. Interesting also that privacy is enhanced this way since in small towns you might prefer to NOT tell the receptionist why you need an appointment with doctor (ie small gossip factor eliminated).

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The latest in patient health care technology has found its way to the lobby of the Scott & White Killeen Clinic as patients can now bypass a receptionist altogether and check in for their appointments by swiping a credit card or driver's license instead.

The new patient check-in kiosk was installed a few months ago at the Killeen clinic as a trial experiment by Scott & White executives to see how the new product would help make the check-in process faster.

On Wednesday, Killeen resident Stephen Caruso visited the clinic and tried the kiosk for the first time.

With prompts from the machine and help from patient service representative Judy Whann, who helps patients use the new machine, Caruso swiped his credit card, paid part of his bill, received a receipt and was successfully checked in for his appointment in under two minutes.

"It's easy to use and self-directive," Caruso said. "It reminds me of checking out at the grocery store or checking in at the airport."

An airport check-in counter was the impetus behind the machine, said Bruce Steinhardt, inventor of the patient check-in kiosk and CEO of OTech Group LLC, the West Bend, Wis.-based medical technology company that developed and manufactures the machine.

"Four years ago I went to the airport and checked myself in and when I got home I went to Home Depot and checked myself out and a flash hit me – there's got to be a way to do this in health care," Steinhardt said.

A year later, the first kiosk was opened in a private practice in Illinois. Since then, about 30 organizations have begun using the kiosk across the country. Among them, Steinhardt said, Scott & White is the largest.

"It's an alternative to waiting in line to talk to a person," Steinhardt said. "It saves time."

The kiosk allows patients to check in, verify their insurance, and make a co-payment with a credit card.

In late fall of 2007 the kiosk was installed at the Killeen clinic to see how it would affect the wait times for patients.

"It has been a real successful experiment," said Brent Blumenthal, assistant executive director of regional clinic operations for Scott & White.

"This is a new and different way to provide service to a usually very routine process," Blumenthal said. "We wanted to experiment and the feedback has been 95 percent positive."

Killeen Clinic Manager Dean said the Killeen clinic made an excellent trial site for the machine because it sees such a high volume of patients daily. Currently, the kiosk handles the checking-in process for between 50 to 110 patients per day.

"It has really helped with wait times," Dean said. "Some people, who need more service, can talk to receptionists, but for the majority it works really well."

But is the advance technology taking out the personal touch of patient health care?

Not really, according to both Steinhardt and Dean.

The Killeen clinic has a service representative helping with check-in process at all times, and Dean said many people actually prefer to use the kiosk because it helps protect their confidentiality.

"Some people don't want to talk to other people," he said.

Dean mentioned the "small town gossip" factor that some patients want to avoid when they go to a clinic. People who see someone they know may not want everyone else in the lobby to know why they are seeing a physician, he said.

"We want to protect patient confidentiality and the bottom line is that we're trying to better service our patients."

Steinhardt, too, admitted that while a kiosk helps expedite the process of getting people in to see a physician, there will always need to be people on hand for anyone with special circumstances.

"I don't think we'll ever see a time where the check-in area is just a sea of computers," Steinhardt said.

As for the future of the new check-in technology, Blumenthal says Scott & White patients can expect to see more in coming months.

Plans are in the works for more check-in kiosks, which cost between $400 to $500 a month to operate, for several local clinics, including Belton which should be installed within the next few weeks, Blumenthal said.

"We're happy that it's enhancing customer service," he said.

Posted by staff at January 28, 2008 12:25 PM