The Three Main Challenges of Patient Check-In

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Check-in is one of your first opportunities to deliver an outstanding patient experience, so it’s critical you fully understand, and are able to overcome, the key challenges of this essential step in the patient journey. 

When it comes to hotspots for negative patient experiences, the waiting room is a potential recipe for disaster, dissatisfaction and disengagement.

Take one room full of people who’d rather be anywhere else and combine with a variety of illnesses and ailments. Sprinkle liberally with a mix of common barriers to accessing healthcare – such as long waiting times, communication issues and a lack of convenient appointments. For the best results: leave tensions to bubble over for a decade or two without sufficient funding.

Despite being an obvious source of discontent, waiting rooms are often overlooked as areas that can be improved to help deal with increasing public frustration towards GPs and the wider NHS. In particular, patient check-in has many opportunities to improve patient engagement and experience.

How can digital technology improve the patient experience? See our infographic  to find out.

As one of the earliest touchpoints in the patient journey, check-in plays a large role in shaping opinions of a provider and setting the tone for the appointment.

It’s also an important step in the literal journey a patient takes through your practice or hospital. When managed incorrectly, poor direction can result in bottlenecks, delayed appointments and crowded waiting rooms – all of which will negatively affect patient experience.

Your first hurdle in overcoming potential check-in problems is understanding the following three key challenges:

1. Maintaining Good Patient Flow

Unfortunately, waiting is an inevitable part of healthcare, but well-managed patient check-in processes can help reduce waiting times and maintain good patient flow – effective from the very first appointment of the day.

When a patient struggles to check in, and is late seeing a doctor, it has a knock-on effect and pushes all following appointments back incrementally. Simply put, simple and efficient check-in systems can be the difference between smooth patient flow with minimal delays and steadily increasing chaos.

Key to maintaining a healthy patient flow is understanding that check-in and patient calling are intrinsically connected. If staff aren’t aware of who has checked in, they may waste time calling patients who haven’t arrived yet.

Similarly, if patient calling isn’t clear and comprehensible to everybody in the waiting room, patients may not realise the doctor is ready to see them and this will likely disrupt patient flow.

Clear and uncomplicated patient wayfinding also plays a large, and often underappreciated, role in check-in. Reception should always be clearly signposted and, if digital check-in is available, kiosks should be easy to find and user-friendly – this includes explicitly pointing out translation features.

2. Effectively Using Front-Office Staff’s Time

Contrary to popular belief, healthcare receptionists are not solely employed to thwart valiant patients in their quest to see a doctor (are people actually confusing receptionists for dragons?). Front-office staff play a vital role at every practice or hospital, and, far from simply just checking patients in for appointments, receptionists are often responsible for:

  • Registering new patients
  • Responding to patient inquiries
  • Keeping medical supplies adequately stocked
  • Protecting confidential patient data
  • Queue management

With so much on their plate, effective and efficient check-in procedures are vital to empowering healthcare receptionists to do the other, often more valuable, elements of their job. That’s why providers should consider improving their check-in systems as a key strategy for improving patient experience.

Healthcare front-office staff are expected to manage patients’ and families’ emotions, with a study in Social Science and Medicine finding this represented a “significant portion” of their job.

Although it will probably never be fully appreciated or compensated, the value of this emotional labour can’t be overstated. By reducing the time spent checking patients in for appointments you could provide the space needed for consoling family members, helping new parents or guiding vulnerable patients through appointment booking.

An increasingly digitised healthcare industry means accurate patient data is more valuable than ever and one of front-office staff’s more important jobs is verifying demographic and contact information. While more efficient check-in systems are a good start, the introduction of digital kiosks enables you to capture this data with very little effort from staff.

3. Increasing Patient Satisfaction

As we discussed in our recent blog, increasing patient satisfaction is all about improving the way you deliver healthcare experiences. As one of the earliest steps in the patient journey, check-in is a vital touchpoint and an opportunity to make a good first impression.

If, on arrival to your practice or hospital, a patient is greeted with a queue at the receptionist’s desk, a delay checking in and long wait for their appointment, it’s likely the rest of their experience will be viewed more negatively. By ensuring your check-in processes are smooth and speedy, you take a big step towards patients feeling more satisfied by their experience.

An efficient check-in process also means front-office staff are less likely to be too busy for a friendly smile or polite greeting as patients arrive. This helps ensure patients don’t view receptionists as snappy, unhelpful or rude, rather than simply being a bit busy. With patient satisfaction so heavily influenced by face-to-face interaction, this helps craft a positive patient experience from the moment they arrive.

Patient engagement is now a dominating element of modern healthcare and can ensure patient satisfaction is consistently high. Surveying patients is the only reliable way of measuring engagement but it’s extremely time-consuming for front-office staff who need to develop the survey questions, convince patients to participate and analyse the results.  

Digital kiosks loaded with patient engagement modules deliver surveys with no effort from your staff and, if patients don’t want to complete the survey they can simply opt-out – without all the awkwardness of saying no to an actual human face. There’s also the added benefit of receptionists not needing to tally up and decode the information themselves, as most patient engagement software  analyses the data for you.


Maintaining an efficient and frictionless check-in experience goes a long way towards ensuring a healthy patient flow. When your processes are designed to prevent bottlenecks and delays early in the patient journey, you’re more able to dictate the movement of people through your practice or hospital. And when developed in tandem with effective patient calling systems the effects are even more impressive.

A well-managed check-in system is also vital because it can be the difference between front-office staff being busy or burnt-out. Overworked and stressed-out receptionists are more likely to struggle with the emotional labour of caring for patients, but it also affects their ability to perform higher value tasks – for example, verifying patient information or performing patient engagement surveys.

Adding digital check-in kiosks to your healthcare practice could prove to be an effective solution and help tackle many challenges in your patient experience. This will empower you to better manage patient flow and free up front-office staff for higher value work. Digital kiosks also integrate smoothly with your existing processes, effortlessly performing patient engagement surveys and verifying demographic information.

For more information on how improving your patient experience can improve health outcomes download our guide today.

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