Checking in for check ups

Automated check-in and registration systems, currently being used in the airline and retail industries, have found their way to the healthcare sector and are proving their worth in enhancing patient care.

Heritage Valley Health System a network of community healthcare facilities based in Beaver, Pa., has deployed automated patient check-in and registration kiosks within two of its healthcare sites in the Pittsburgh area.

The technology, dubbed MediKiosk was developed by Galvanon, a subsidiary of enterprise data warehousing firm NCR Corp.

“Our vision and our belief have always been that healthcare ultimately needs to be provided in a customer- friendly setting,” said Norm Mitry, CEO of Heritage Valley Health System, which currently serves around 300,000 healthcare customers in Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas.

Heritage Valley has 10 freestanding MediKiosks in its Women’s Health Center and Diagnostics Radiology Center. Patients willing to try the new automated check-in and registration system will be asked to either scan their Care Card, a patient identification card issued by Heritage Valley, or key in their name on the kiosk screen.

The MediKiosk then pulls the patient data from the centre’s master patient index, a central repository of all information pertaining to Heritage Valley patients. For new patients, the kiosk captures all the information keyed in by the patient and transmits the data to the master patient index in electronic format such as XML or Web services. A new file is then created for a first-time patient, explained Galvanon co-founder and vice-president of operations Chakri Toleti.

The data from the kiosk entry point is also sent to the appropriate department, where the patient will receive care, as well as to other administrative areas such as billing and accounting. If the patient is registered for a particular test, the appropriate department is notified electronically that the patient has arrived for his or her appointment, Mitry explained.

“[The MediKiosk] gives the option to the patient to be self-sufficient,” said Mitry. He added that patients also have the option to forego the automated check-in and go through the traditional manual check-in and registration, should they feel more comfortable talking to a live person.

The MediKiosk is part of Heritage Valley’s strategy around leveraging a centralized electronic health records (EHR) implementation to improve patient care, explained the company’s CEO. The healthcare firm began developing its own EHR system about a decade ago, with its physicians at the forefront defining how and what the system should be. Implementing the MediKiosk was a step further along the EHR strategy, Mitry pointed out.

Heritage Valley began rolling out the MediKiosk in late spring of 2005, initially installing five machines in the Women’s Health Center. From the beginning, people were clear about their roles: the IT folks were responsible for delivery of the technology and the departments involved were tasked with producing and maintaining the content, said Mitry.

The first implementation became a foundation for improving deployment and enhancing best practices that the project team was able to enforce with the succeeding implementation at the Diagnostics Radiology Center, Mitry explained.

One lesson learned, said Mitry: “You can’t pull the implementation people out of the process too early. I believe we pulled out the implementation folks from the first site too early, before everyone at that site became not only as comfortable as they [needed] to be, but had enough buy-in to [the technology] to keep it going forward.”

There was little difficulty in integrating the MediKiosk technology with Heritage Valley’s existing clinical systems, including McKesson- and NextGen-based applications, said Mitry.

It also helped that MediKiosk is a standards-based technology, which made interoperability possible, he added.

The MediKiosk also features reporting capabilities, providing real-time data that allows the hospital to measure and analyze facts and figures such as wait times and the reasons why patients are waiting, Mitry said.

This data gives Heritage Valley the opportunity to make accurate business decisions and improve patient care, he added.

On the front end, Mitry said, customer satisfaction responses “have all been very positive.”

The automated check-in system facilitates faster patient processing and can significantly reduce wait times, said Galvanon’s Toleti.

“A manual (hospital) check-in was taking 12 to 15 minutes. Using the electronic check-in for the first time, that went down to seven to 10 minutes. On a repeat visit, it came down to less than three minutes,” Toleti explained.

The automated check-in machine also alleviates tedious manual processes, which can lead to duplication of hospital and patient records, Toleti added.

Toleti said Galvanon is currently in talks with Canadian software vendors in the healthcare space for possible channel partnerships, as well as some Canadian healthcare organizations for possible MediKiosk implementations.

In addition to freestanding kiosks, the MediKiosk can also be delivered in the form of desktop machines, similar to that of a point-of-sale system in retail, and in wireless tablet form, which is also known as an electronic clipboard.

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