Until recently, many hospitals were looking for ways to increase self-serve registration kiosks use. Priorities have changed, or at least expanded.

“I’ve heard some hospitals have recently removed kiosks. Many have moved to more touchless technologies,” says John Woerly, RHIA, CHAM, FHAM, an Indianapolis-based revenue cycle consultant.

There is an overall move away from face-to-face registration. “Kiosks are still a very viable option — better, at this point, than human interaction,” Woerly offers.

A few hospitals have found creative ways for patients to check in using their own phones or facility-owned tablets. This allows people to update registration and clinical information, sign consents, make payments, and schedule future appointments.

“We now have more state-of-the-art technologies that patients would be more comfortable in using in these times,” Woerly says. The bottom line is that patients want “easy, convenient, and safe” registration, Woerly adds.

Today, fewer than 20% of hospitals operate kiosks, according to an estimate from Jonathan Wiik, principal of healthcare strategy at TransUnion Healthcare. “It is still in early adoption due to patients wanting face-to-face interaction,” Wiik says.

This varies somewhat by generation. Older patients may prefer personal interaction. “Millennials would prefer touchless, but the industry is not there yet,” Wiik observes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have used patient portals as much as possible for preregistration. “Social distancing from COVID-19 has certainly changed the admissions, registration, and intake process,” Wiik notes.

Patients texted their arrival, and staff escorted them inside. Paperwork and insurance verification were handled in advance. However, this labor-intensive process works best when patient volumes are unusually low. “As the industry brings back the elective procedures that were deferred, volumes will demand a more streamlined approach to patient intake,” Wiik explains.

Installation and deployment of a kiosk system take months. Enough time is needed to install the kiosk, to change workflows, and to educate staff. “There will be more adoption going forward, as they are an efficient and operational way to manage patient flow in a socially distanced manner,” Wiik predicts. For hospitals that already operated kiosks, workers are placing dots or tape on the floor six feet apart. Also, staff clean kiosks between each use. “Most people, however, want to bypass the waiting room altogether,” Wiik says.

Remote registration and an “express care” concept is becoming an expectation. “As consumers, we all want to get in and out of whatever errand we have quickly, especially healthcare,” Wiik notes.

There are some formidable challenges. “Regardless of what a patient may expect, hospitals have budgets. They cannot staff to infinity,” Wiik says. Clinical positions are prioritized over clerical roles. “It is [too expensive] for a hospital to staff a concierge or escort for every patient,” Wiik explains.

Many patients would love to set up a profile for their healthcare, just as they do when shopping online. “This would streamline intake considerably. However, there is not a lot of momentum with providers as care is still episodic in nature,” Wiik cautions.

Hospitals see a patient perhaps once a year, at most, unless there is a significant diagnosis or major trauma. “Engaging patients more frequently can help ensure the demographics, health behaviors, and health history is up to date and electronic,” Wiik suggests.

At Tampa, FL-based Moffitt Cancer Center, the patient and families advisory council expressed eagerness for more self-service options. “We are in the middle of building online registration and self-arrival kiosks, with a planned roll out by the end of the year,” reports Marion Knott, manager of clinic access.

Through online registration, patients can complete registration in advance, either on home computers or smartphones. “The kiosks, when implemented, will be for the arrival aspect only,” Knott says. Staff will properly identify the patient, armband them, assist them (if needed), and clean the kiosks.

“We plan on having wipes located at each one for the patient to wipe them again if that makes them feel more comfortable,” Knott adds.