CTS, Phreesia Self-Service Units Replace Medical Office Check-In Paperwork

Signing in on paper may soon be history in medical facilities as electronic kiosks similar to those at the bank or airport take over the job usually done by an army of registration clerks.

We've seen self-service kiosks become ubiquitous at banks and at airports. Now they're reaching the waiting room of doctor's offices.

CTS (Connected Technology Solutions), which makes the Patient PassPort Express kiosk, reports that it has achieved 5 million patient check-ins on its machines from 2007 to 2010. The company began pilot use in 2006 and started full deployment in 2008.

Patient PassPort Express allows patients to check in without going through the typical registration process, which usually starts by signing their names on a clipboard and working with a registration clerk to fill out paperwork before meeting with a medical professional.

Using the kiosks, patients can update medical histories, use an electronic signature pad to sign documents and make credit card copayments.

"The kiosk is a much more dependable collector of copays," Sandy Nix, president and CEO of CTS, told eWEEK. With Patient PassPort Express, clinics can also verify that insurance information is up to date and remind patients of future appointments.

Depending on the size of the facility, CTS deploys anywhere from 10 to 100 units per location. The units are geared toward large clinic groups.

From hospitals' EHRs (electronic health records), the kiosk can retrieve data such as name, address and date of birth to display on-screen for patients.

The unit doesn't store the information it retrieves from the EHR, however. The kiosk deletes a patient's personal information at the end of a transaction, "There's absolutely no information stored on the kiosk itself," Nix said.

Patients can print HIPAA forms and other documentation. "The printer is contained within the kiosk to keep the transaction private," Nix said.

Customized for clients' brands, the kiosks also serve the retail, hospitality and transportation industries in addition to health care.

CTS offers floor, wall and desktop kiosks depending on a customer's needs and will introduce an additional kiosk design at the HIMSS11 health care IT conference in Orlando, Fla., in February that will be able to meet ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) guideline updates. The new unit will also feature wheelchair compatibility and features for the visually impaired.

Meanwhile, another self-service check-in vendor, Phreesia, makes the tablet-size WiFi PhreesiaPad that it calls the "iPad of the doctor's office."

The PhreesiaPad allows medical practices to verify insurance information, take patient copays and provide balance information.

On Dec. 1, Phreesia announced it would incorporate global payments provider Elavon's payment-processing infrastructure.

Phreesia chose a tablet size rather than a larger floor-standing unit to save costs and room for medical facilities, according to CEO Chaim Indig. "The average doctor's office can't afford them and doesn't have the room for them," Indig told eWEEK.

"We really early on didn't want big, bulky standing machines," he said. "They're also impossible to service. If something goes wrong, we have to send someone on-site." When a unit needs fixing, it just gets shipped back to Phreesia.

Phreesia aims to keep patients busy while waiting for their appointments, Indig said.

"Our belief is the only way that health care in America is going to take great leaps in efficiency is to use the greatest resource that's untapped-that is the patient. Rather than waiting two hours in the waiting room, they should be handling their own copays," Indig said.

Phreesia programs the device to ask a patient questions that pertain to the type of practice. "A pediatrician might ask different questions for your kids than a gastroenterologist might ask," he explained.

Like the CTS unit, the PhreesiaPad draws patient data from EHRs, such as insurance info, address, family history, vaccination history, last visit to the hospital and medications. The tablet connects to EHR practice-management databases using the HL7 (Health Level 7) standard, according to Indig.

Unlike the CTS model, the Phreesia check-in units incorporate targeted advertising, though 93 percent of patients do opt in for these promotional messages, Indig noted.

The ads are related to patients' conditions, such as ways to treat gout or high cholesterol, he said. "We deliver targeted health messages; we don't think of them as ads," Indig explained.