This post comes to us from the incredible Dr. Jessica Vogelsang.
One of the most dreaded things I hear when making a new appointment with a doctor is, “Please show up 30 minutes early.” I know what this means. It means that when I get there, someone’s about to hand me a clipboard with 10 pages of double-sided paper. I’m going to have to remember every medication, every vitamin I’ve taken for the last 5 years, and dig out at least one insurance card while sitting in the reception area trying to jam through it as quickly as possible so I can get out of the COVID den and into an exam room.
I get why it’s important, but I’m also thrilled with the new way my GP’s office handles forms: during the online check-in process, 24 hours before the appointment. As a bonus for those who partake, my phone pings the office when it’s within a block of the building, and I get to sit in my car until they have a room ready. When I did this last week, I got to bypass four people standing in line at the tiny reception desk, one of whom was hiding in the stairwell to stay as far away from everyone as possible. I got a dirty look when I got to go right back, but hey! The option was there for her too. Tech for the win!
Which leads me to the next point—you can have the best, most useful technology in the world, but it’s useless if people don’t use it. We know having forms filled out ahead of time is one of the best ways to save time for both clients and clinics—and in the veterinary world, where the check-in happens curbside, the benefits are even more obvious. Like all changes, transitioning clients to online forms isn’t always a walk in the park, but those who have done it are unanimous in their praise.
There’s no one way to incorporate online forms into your workflow. Still, it’s well worth the effort to get an intake form up and running and modify as you go to increase compliance, save time for you and your clients, and get a more comprehensive history before the appointment even begins. I took an informal poll of 30 or so of my colleagues, and those who have done it are thrilled with the time and hassle saved and would never, ever go back.
Here are some of the biggest tips I’ve gained from my colleagues regarding form usage over the past six months:
- Keep it simple. Sure, it would be great to have a client give you a 100% comprehensive history every time they check-in, but studies from the human side show that the shorter the form, the better the compliance. What are the essential pieces of information you need for your clients? You can always add from there until compliance dips.
- Minimize typing. Drop-down menus and those that have more checkboxes than fill in the blanks are easier to use, especially with mobile devices. It’s a fine balance between not enough information and convenience, but resist the urge for forms that take 10 minutes to fill out (unless your intake is complex by nature, such as behavior or end-of-life consultations.)
- Consider different forms for categories of appointments. Instead of having one generic check-in form that everyone fills out, try a couple: surgery releases, wellness, dentistry, general check-ins, rechecks. Luckily, WhiskerCloud handles all of this for you!
- Make it mandatory. If clients know they have to complete the forms online to be checked in, compliance jumps. You’ll still have a subset of clients who cannot for various reasons, but it’s a much smaller group than those who didn’t feel like it.
- Mention the forms a lot. When appointments are booked, ask people if they want the forms emailed or for you to text a link. Send the link when the appointment is booked. Remind them the day before. Talk about how great it is (and it is!) for you to be able to come right out and take their pet in when the owner arrives, versus sitting in their chilly car passing pens back and forth through a barely cracked window.
What’s the best way to utilize forms? The best way is the one you’re most likely to use. Most clinics are happy using a service like JotForm or DocuSign, which allows a great deal of customization and returns the completed form to you as a PDF that can be uploaded into the record. If you have an awesome web team at WhiskerCloud, they can completely customize and build any forms you may need on your website.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many of us thought the virtual care revolution would mean more at-home exams because people wouldn’t want to leave their house. It turns out the real revolution is in bringing online all the other surrounding processes that we probably should have been doing in the first place. Does this mean all those conference freebie pens are going to be a thing of the past? Who knows, but if this is what we get in return, I’ll be happy with the tradeoff.