by Cindy Waxer

How Kiosks Cut Patient Wait Times at Walk-in Clinics

Aug 31, 2010
Data Management

When The Little Clinic switched from paper-based check-ins to a new kiosk system that populates its EMRs, it gained an hour of patient time and saved $12,000 a month

The Little Clinic offers on-the-fly health services to time-strapped patients in supermarkets. Picking up eggs and an exam in a single trip can indeed save time, but a slow patient-registration process was ailing the Brentwood, Tenn.-based healthcare services company.

“We had a traditional clipboard for patients to sign in and get a place in line,” says Mat Waites, The Little Clinic’s CIO. “Then our clinicians would have to scan those patient-information forms, collect them and mail them in to the corporate office on a weekly basis.”

Eager to expedite the intake process, Waites developed an automated patient-registration kiosk. Before the company introduced the kiosk, a clinician had to manually enter patient information into The Little Clinic’s electronic medical records (EMR) system. Documenting and tracking the patient queue was also done by hand.

However, since deploying Boston Software Systems’ Boston WorkStation to automate the registration process, The Little Clinic has “knocked time off the average visit, alleviated clinicians’ paperwork burden and raised efficiency,” says Waites.

Patients simply type their contact and insurance information directly into the kiosk and the data is transferred into their EMR. What’s more, the kiosk software automatically identifies repeat patients by performing “a heuristic match based on a patient’s name, date of birth and zip code,” says Waites. “If there’s a match, the system assumes it’s a returning patient,” avoiding duplicate entries.

According to Waites, automating the registration and data-transfer process shaves about two minutes off each patient encounter—a 10 percent reduction. What’s more, the system saves about one hour per clinic per day and about $12,000 per month in labor and administration costs.

Tim Hickernell, an Info-Tech Research Group analyst, says with the recent health insurance reform extending benefits, it’s no wonder “workflow and e-forms in healthcare, especially clinical care, are a huge trend.” Waites estimates that by taking two minutes off each visit, clinics can squeeze in one more patient a day.

The kiosk also enhances customer service by displaying a queue with estimated wait times based on a patient’s needs. Clinicians can also access the queue and determine how many are waiting without doing a manual headcount. Waites says the system lowers patient anxiety and lets clinicians tend to healthcare.

For all the stress it’s eased for customers, Waites says getting the system’s EMR technology and automated workflow software to “talk” to each other was tedious, painstaking work. Because it resembles a screen-scraping application, there was plenty of trial and error, including using cursor and mouse clicks to stick the data collected into the appropriate EMR fields. Next step: speeding up the deli counter.

How They Saved: By replacing clipboards and paper forms with a kiosk and workflow-automation software, The Little Clinic saves about one hour per day, per clinic—a monetary savings of about $12,000 per month in labor and administration costs.

Tool used: Boston Software Systems’ Boston WorkStation. It took six weeks of tweaking before The Little Clinic’s electronic medical records system and the workflow-automation software deployed via kiosks communicated seamlessly.

Errors away: The system’s hypersensitivity to patient-generated errors (such as misspelled street addresses) meant modifying the company’s EMR system to more readily accept a wider range of data from the patient-registration solution.

A point of privacy: To protect patient confidentiality, kiosks are situated out of the public view, and many feature privacy filters to block the gaze of nosy onlookers. Boston WorkStation runs on The Little Clinic’s own data center servers, which fully encrypt the flow of data.