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The Genie Is Out Of The Bottle – Embrace The Power Of Self-Service

November 26, 2012
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I just celebrated my 50th birthday.  As a present, my health system arranged for me to have a colonoscopy, and also gave me a free coffee shop gift card.  On occasion, I’ll stop by my local shop with my middle school-aged daughter to get her a hot chocolate and a fresh-brewed grande coffee for me.  I kind of miss the good old days when I would have talked to the barista, ordered on my way to the cashier, and swiped my credit card after the total was calculated.


he big chains work a little bit differently today.  Mine detects who I am from some kind of a signal via an app from my cell phone and its proximity.  They know what I’m most likely to order based on my history with them, the time of day and day of week.  My phone’s display shows me what I’m going to get if I hit the confirm button.  Of course, there’s an option to open the full menu on the screen as well, but I never do that.  

Lately, I’ve noticed that they can somehow detect when I’m with my daughter, and add the hot chocolate to my order, as what they term “a likely option (specifically for me).”  There’s no credit card swipe anymore.  When I hit confirm, that’s all they need to authorize my transaction.

But something seemed to be a little awry during my last visit.  The first item was a decaf coffee.  That was followed by the hot chocolate, which I expected.  Next to the decaf coffee there was a new button I’ve never seen before.  It read “Why?”  When I touched the button, a pop-up appeared to remind me that based on an interaction with my healthcare provider, I had complained of palpitations, and agreed to try stopping caffeine for a while to see if this helped.  I had completely forgotten, but I had signed a pact with my provider that included authorizing these types of reminders.  

Nothing unusual happened during the rest of my morning.  I stopped at the grocery store and used self-service checkout, receiving personalized discounts and other reminders. Then I went to the gas station, swiped my card, and got a lower price (forty cents per gallon) for my loyalty program with the grocery chain.  Next, I headed to the airport, used the self-check in, and received a personalized seat and boarding assignment.

So, imagine you’re a provider organization with dozens of offices, clinics, and a few hospitals.  When will you be ready to plug into this kind of consumer network?  When will you be prepared to offer your patients, aka consumers or customers, this kind of a pact when they present at your facility? 

The technology is readily available to healthcare providers of all sizes.  Much of it is modular so you can implement it incrementally.  You can build patient loyalty through reducing wait times by using the convenience of self-service registration, check in, and empowering patients to schedule their own appointments.  There are many other benefits, too.  For instance, you can significantly reduce denials, automate co-payments, lower your administrative costs, and more to come.

It’s high time for healthcare providers to get with this cost-effective 21st Century technology.  The genie is out of the bottle; this level of service has become the norm for literally every touchpoint from smartphones and the Web, to point-of-service.  Are you ready?

Joseph I. Bormel, MD, MPH

CMO and Vice President

QuadraMed Corporation



Dr. Bormel,
Your timing couldn't have been better for this post. The administration at my hospital is finally getting serious about self-service technology.

You mentioned that the products for self-service are generally modular for incremental installs. This is an important point. As we're already funding our EMR Stage 2 preparation and ICD-10 work, budgeting for additional technology is a difficult task. However, implementing self-service would be an obvious benefit, and we can probably do so piece-by-piece.

Therfore, I would greatly appreciate if you could tell me, in order of priority, which moduals we should consider. Thank you.

Doc Benjamin

Thanks for your comment and question, Doc Goldman. In order to get you the best possible response, I asked an executive with even more experience in this domain. Here’s what he said:

Many of our clients start their implementation with a plan to make real, tangible progress incrementally, using small, convenient modules:

1. Point-of-Service, Scheduled Check-in Module: This enables patients who are “frequent flyers”—patients who have frequent, recurring visits (e.g. clinics, oncology, physical therapy, ortho, etc.)—to quickly and efficiently enter and check in for service. The key components of this module include:

> a. Forms Management – presenting Consent, HIPPA, Payment, etc. forms, as well as capturing electronic signatures by the patient via a point-of-service solution

> b. Data Integrity and Management – for patients to quickly and efficiently update any patient demographics (e.g. marital status, insurance, address, etc.). This puts this control and data management back in the patients’ hands

>c. Payment Collection – collection of copays and outstanding balances

2. Walk-in Service Module: As each patient enters for services, this module conveniently presents the most likely services to that patient—all from a point-of-service solution that captures consistent data. (The module is also flexible enough to allow patients to type “why” they are there seeking services.) This reduces the amount of time a registrar has to sit with the patient collecting and reentering data and taking data from clipboards. Now, all the information is entered by the patient and the registrar simply reviews and validates the information.

All solutions interface with the healthcare provider’s EMR, Scheduling, Financial, and DMI systems, minimizing duplicate data and the need to reenter data. These are the first two major items healthcare providers look for as they look to quickly and efficiently move patients through their encounter.

There are many other areas we can cover such as:

1. Web Connection to extend patient access outside of the healthcare provider’s front doors

2. Mobile Access to extend service to the hip, providing patients with health management access on-the-go