Hey, physical therapists: Want to cultivate an amazing patient experience in your practice? I’ve got two words for you: patient intake. Of course, creating a positive overall experience requires attention throughout the entire care episode, but that’s a lot easier to do if you kick things off on the right foot—starting with a smooth intake process. With that in mind, here are four best practices for improving the patient intake process in physical therapy outpatient practices:

1. Review your current intake packet.

From the patient perspective, one of the most time-consuming parts of the intake process is completing paperwork. And let’s face it: nobody really enjoys filling out page after page of personal information—especially if they’ve already given you that information. So, it’s a good idea to give your intake packet a once-over to make sure there aren’t any redundancies. If there’s any part of the packet patients can skip, let them know—or take it out of the intake packet completely.

During your review, you should also check for outdated or missing forms. According to Physicians Practice, in addition to forms that collect regular patient demographic and contact information, your clinic’s intake packet should include your:

  • financial policy,
  • assignment of benefits form,
  • HIPAA acknowledgment, and
  • consent forms (if necessary).

Once you’ve trimmed and cleaned up your intake packet, make sure you send it to new patients ASAP—ideally, before their first appointment—using a secure messaging platform.

Pro tip: The WebPT EMR makes this super easy to do, as users can send scanned, external documents directly from the app to a HIPAA-compliant patient portal. The patient can then download and complete the documents ahead of time!

2. Contact the patient before the first appointment.

Speaking of reaching out to the patient in advance, kick off the intake process with a friendly phone call that establishes expectations and allows patients to ask any questions before their first appointment. During this phone call, you should:

  • confirm the appointment date and time;
  • let patients know how soon before the appointment they should arrive;
  • remind patients to bring along any necessary documents (e.g., ID and insurance card); and
  • send the intake packet.

Is your patient intake process missing something?

Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. Download our free patient intake checklist and make sure all your intake ducks are in a row.

3. Double-check insurance details.

I can’t overstate the importance of this one. Having the wrong insurance information can create massive speed bumps in your revenue cycle management (RCM) process. Whether it’s finding out the patient has a secondary insurance after submitting the claim to the primary payer—or realizing you collected an out-of-pocket payment from a Medicare patient (that’s a big ol’ no-no)—mistakes that require you to correct your billing is a pain for everyone involved. Worse yet, if you miss the payer’s timely filing deadline because you didn’t have the correct insurance details, the payer won’t always be forgiving. You’ll have to provide proof that it was the patient’s fault, which isn’t necessarily easy.

To prevent this from happening, be sure to obtain the patient’s insurance information as soon as possible—ideally, during the initial setup call. That way, you won’t have to wait until after the first appointment to verify the patient’s insurance benefits.

Lastly, if you have a returning patient, make sure all the info in your system is up to date. EMRs like WebPT make it super easy to keep track of things like insurance authorizations by alerting you when an authorization is expired.

4. Greet every person who comes in.

I’m always a little surprised when I walk into an establishment and I’m not met with an immediate “hello” from the person behind the front desk. At best, it’s confusing. (I start wondering if I wrote down the wrong appointment time, because it seems no one was expecting me.) And at worst, I feel less like a welcomed patron and more like an inconvenience. (And judging by various reviews I’ve seen on sites like Yelp and Google, I’m not alone in this.) But if the front desk staff is friendly and helpful, it leaves me with a positive first impression—and that sets the tone for the rest of the appointment. So, as you train your front office staff, make sure that training includes greeting each patient who walks through the door. Front office staff should also:

  • collect patients’ intake packets;
  • direct patients to the water and coffee (if available);
  • show them where they can wait; and
  • inform them of how long they can expect to wait until the PT is with them.

That way, patients not only feel immediately welcomed, but also get a sense that you truly value their time.


So, there you have it: four easy ways to make the patient intake process a breeze—for you and your patients. Got any tips of your own for improving patient intake? Share them with us in the comment section below! 

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