In this Telehealth Feature Series, we’re going to cover the long list of potential telehealth features available today. As you’re considering your own approach to telehealth, we will provide you a look at all the possible features telehealth companies are offering on the market. Plus, we’ll offer our insight into the nuances of each feature so you can select the right telehealth company or companies you use. Not all telehealth is created equal, so taking the time to understand all the possible features and options is worth the effort.
The next feature we’re going to cover is Patient Intake Paperwork and Patient Consent.
Even before COVID-19 and the telehealth explosion, we were seeing more and more organizations moving their patient intake and consent paperwork onto some sort of digital format. Whether it’s a forms based company like Interlace Health, Access, or FormStack to name just a few of the poplar ones or some of the digital check in/waiting room companies like Phreesia and Epion Health, there were a lot of options to be able to collect a patient’s intake paper work electronically even before COVID-19. Of course, many also used their EHR’s patient portal to collect this info and we’ve even seen relatively new entrants to this space like JotForm. While this movement was happening, the move to telehealth and the new social distancing requirements has made this largely a must have.
The core question with a telehealth visit isn’t “Should we collect the patient forms electronically?” but more a question of how do we collect the patient intake paperwork and patient consent electronically? While filling out those forms in the waiting room often feels useless as a patient, there are a lot of reasons those forms are required. Doctors aren’t asking you to fill out the forms for no reason. In most cases, those forms are a legal, compliance, business, or care requirement for a medical practice to run efficiently. If it was just to facilitate care, the forms would be much shorter, but that’s just not the reality. Plus, it’s unfortunate that telehealth doesn’t change most of those requirements.
As such, whether it’s a telehealth visit or in person visit, collecting information and receiving consent from the patients is still an important part of the process. The question just remains, should the telehealth vendor provide this feature?
As we evaluated all the various telehealth solutions out there, this feature is all over the place. Some telehealth vendors have basically shunned the idea of doing any of the intake paperwork and aren’t planning to build this into their product suite. Given the list of companies I mention above, this might be a reasonable strategy. Why should they reinvent the wheel and create functionality that is no doubt more advanced than whatever the’d build? Some of these healthcare forms companies have been building their solutions for years. Plus, even more than their advanced forms is their connections to EHR companies so that the intake paperwork and consent can be transferred directly to the EHR.
Other telehealth companies have gone all in on creating their own form and consent engine. The argument for this is that it creates a seamless experience for the patient to be able to check in for the telehealth visit, fill out the forms, obtain any consents needed, etc and then access their telehealth visit. There’s definitely something to say about the seamless experience. However, the two challenges telehealth vendors face is making the forms robust enough to work for all of their users and integrating the forms data back into the EHR. While some organizations will be ok having the data stored in the telehealth vendor software, most will want the data stored in the EHR.
As a side note to this, in our EHR Telehealth series, most EHR vendors have some sort of forms engine built into their telehealth solution. So far only one of them is relying on third party vendors to solve this problem. Others are having the forms filled out through the portal which we all know can be problematic when a patient doesn’t remember how to log in to the portal. Plus, it’s worth mentioning that not all form options are created equal. It’s one thing to say they have forms and another to say they have forms that will work for your office or that can be easily customized to work for you (and yes, every office is going to want to customize these forms).
In your evaluation of a telehealth vendor, spending time to really understand how you’re going to approach patient intake forms and patient consent is worth the effort. It shouldn’t be a casual “Do you have forms?” evaluation. If that’s all you ask, the answer is almost always yes and thus makes it a useless question. Instead, understand what forms your office requires and then work with them to see how your specific forms will work with their telehealth solution or third party forms partner.
The good news is that if you approach the intake forms the right way, you can use this time to make your in person intake forms electronic as well. A digitally integrated patient intake form is a better workflow for everyone involved and more accurate since the patient can often complete the forms at home, at their speed, and with access to all the info they need to complete the forms.