Why isn’t there a standardized “New Patient” form?


My wife and I changed dentists recently, which meant filling out a pile of “New Patient” forms. As I’ve come to expect, the forms asked for every conceivable piece of information, and some of the questions were repeated two or three times for no apparent reason. All told, it took me a full three hours to fill out the forms for the two of us. Even if you average that out to 90 minutes per new patient, the time that I had to spend on this task was simply outrageous. And I doubt I’m the only person who feels that way about the new patient signup experience at doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers.

From what I understand, there are several efforts underway to streamline this process. Some practices are moving towards online signup for new patients, or switching to fully electronic health records. But these initiatives are few and far between. I’m guessing that at least 75% of healthcare practices still use paper forms. And every one of those forms is different in some obscure way.

There’s actually a really simple solution to this problem. Trade organizations like the AMA and ADA, or even the federal government, should publish a standardized set of forms for common tasks like signing up a new patient. People could then download these forms from a public-facing website, fill them out once, and just bring a copy whenever they need to visit a new medical provider. Of course, the patient would need to update their master copy if any of their billing information or medical history had changed since the last time they used the form. But that’s still a lot easier than filling out a lengthy form from scratch, like you have to do today.

While many healthcare professionals would welcome the idea of having standard forms available — especially the person who was responsible for maintaining their customized in-house versions — there will always be some offices that insist on collecting additional info. Luckily, it’s easy to accomodate these outliers as well. The standard form would simply include some blank lines labeled “Other Information” to let the office staff capture additional details — such as your cousin’s pet’s favorite color — during the first appointment.

Overall, moving towards standardized forms — even if it’s just for new patient signup — would save huge amounts of time and money. Patients could register at a new practice by simply presenting the forms they already have, and would be far less likely to make mistakes compared to the old method of recanting their life story at the last minute. And by receiving legible and largely error-free forms from new patients, medical and dental offices would have an easier time entering the data into their systems and getting insurance claims paid on time. This is truly a situation where everyone comes out ahead, and I hope that someone with enough pull in the healthcare community will eventually see the light and give standardized forms a try.