Automating Patient Intake and Outcomes Collection on a Budget

Arrows with cog in the center

By Subha Nagasubramanian, PT, DPT*

One aspect of management that often gets short shrift is fine-tuning day-to-day operations.

Everyone who runs a practice is familiar with that. Once you get something working, with all the other million things that need to get done to keep your practice going, you never feel able to take the time to sit down and look at how things are being done and how to do them more efficiently.

However, as numerous successful private practices have mentioned in their blogs, system automation is precisely an area that has to be tackled early on. Experts argue that tasks that involve day-to-day operations should almost always be approached with the intention of automating them as much as possible. Automation frees up time for personnel to focus on serving the customer by bringing efficiency to everyday tasks.

Two areas of practice that benefit from system automation are completion of patient intake forms and the collection of outcome measures. In today’s more popular electronic medical records (EMRs), filled-out paper forms need to be scanned or the front desk personnel have to enter it into the system—a time-consuming and error-prone process. In order to attain proper patient information like past medical history, current status, and consent, patient intake forms need to be completed before the patient’s first visit; there is no way around it. In this day and age, having a patient arrive early to fill out paper forms is inefficient both for the clinic and for the patient.

Affordable products are available that provide different ways of helping to automate patient intake. The products range from end-to-end customer management, like TouchHealth, to solutions that focus on intake like IntakeQ and FormDoctor, to name a few. Pricing varies based on number of providers, volume of submissions, and number of forms utilized.

Another important area of practice to automate is the collection of outcome measures. Automated systems include better tracking of outcomes and productivity. For physical therapists in private practice, quality measures are structured to measure the impact of the individual practitioner; for example, assessment of pain on initial evaluation using a standardized pain assessment or an outcomes-based questionnaire such as the Oswestry Disability Index and the Neck Disability Index. However, only a limited number of quality measures track the outcome of interventions and the performance of the therapist. Examples can be found in the August 2018 Outcomes Measurement System comparison chart. A physical therapy outcomes registry will also assist in justifying value-based payment and prepare your clinic to effectively report in the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). Using tools like these are much more efficient since data points are standardized, allowing you to objectively look at how you and your patients are doing.

For those who are just starting out and don’t want to spend the money, there are a couple of options. Build it yourself or have someone build it for you. In our practice, patients automatically receive an email when they first schedule an appointment and again when discharged. We get a PDF of the intake as well as the answers on an Excel sheet so we can do the kind of qualitative analysis I mentioned earlier.


Subha Nagasubramanian, PT, DPT, s a PPS member and owner of Capitol Physical Therapy LLC based in Washington, DC. She can be reached at subha@capitol.pt.

*The author has a vested interest in this subject.