Publicity and planning drives on-line reg success

OB patients are biggest users

Marketing and advance planning were the keys to success when Memphis, TN-based Baptist Memorial Health Care began offering its patients on-line registration, says Liz Tucker, corporate director of access operations. “We started by marketing [the service] in the newspaper, and then determined we would need to get [the information] into the physicians’ offices,” she adds. Research already had determined that those most interested in registering on-line were the labor and delivery patients.

“The marketing we did was for everybody, but we have found that [obstetrics patients] are the big user population,” Tucker notes. “One of the most successful things we did was to have some table tents and appointment cards made up and placed in the physician offices. On the back of the cards giving the appointment [time] was information on how to register on-line.”

Refrigerator magnets describing the on-line registration process, distributed at a health fair, were another important tool, she says.

The pilot project began in December 2003 at Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women. The five additional metropolitan Memphis hospitals started the service in February 2004, and by April 2004, all 17 Baptist Memorial hospitals were involved, Tucker explains. The planning, however, began in July 2003, she points out, and included such steps as designing the web site link (www.bmhcc.org/facilities/preregister.asp), determining how users would maneuver through the site, and creating a logo for “epatient,” as the on-line service has been named.

As with Dayton, OH-based Kettering Medical Center Network, Baptist Memorial’s patients let the organization know it was time to offer on-line registration, Tucker notes. “The feedback we got on patient satisfaction forms was, ‘Why don’t you have this? We’d like to be able to access information on-line.’”

At its larger hospitals, she estimates, Baptist Memorial is receiving about 30 registrations per week on-line. “It’s not to the level we’d like it to be,” Tucker adds, but she notes that people using the service may be those who otherwise would have been difficult for preregistration staff to reach.

The advantage for staff is the reduction in time spent making phone calls, she says. “In the past, we would have to call them, get all the demographic information, and then call back after insurance verification. Now that is reduced to one telephone call.”

In addition, Tucker says, a note on the web site lets patients know that copays and deductibles are due at the time of service and reminds them to bring their identification and insurance card. “We also have maps on the web site they can use if they haven’t been to the hospital before,” she says, noting that providing directions is something that typically is done in the preregistration phone call.

One of the few problems customers have had in completing the on-line registration process has been selecting the correct hospital as the destination for their form, Tucker notes. “We have several different facilities, so we’ve had to tweak the web site so that is more noticeable — that’s probably the biggest challenge we’ve had.”

Once the patient has completed the on-line registration, it moves automatically to a mailbox that actually is a computerized work list, she explains. “The preregistration person enters the demographics into the admission/discharge/transfer system, completes the insurance verification, and then calls the patients to let them know we’ve received the information.”

At that point, the employee tells the patients the amount of the copay or deductible and where to come when they arrive at the hospital, Tucker says. “It’s a much shorter phone call [than with the traditional preregistration process].”

Future plans, she adds, include enabling patients to make payments on-line, so they can take care of the copay or deductible in advance. “It’s going to be a pretty big project,” Tucker says, “because we’d like it to be not only for payments on that visit, but for existing accounts.”

[Editor’s note: Liz Tucker can be reached at (901) 227-3883, or by e-mail at liz.tucker@bmhcc.org.]