The first step for patients at a hospital or medical practice is the intake process. In small offices that might just mean filling out a questionnaire. In hospitals and large clinics, patients typically go through a series of steps with intake specialists who collect and process information and get patients set up for the next step in their care.
Meet the Patients
You’re the first contact patients have with a facility. In some cases, you’re interviewing people who are experiencing some type of medical crisis and may not be eager to answer all your questions. Patience is definitely required in the job as well as the ability to talk to people from different backgrounds. Fluency in a second language is important if you live in an area with a high non-English-speaking population. You’ve got to be very accurate and organized when taking down information. Computer skills are vital, but can be learned on the job. Knowing medical terminology and being able to recognize certain symptoms is required at some facilities, which is why many organizations typically prefer to have a medical professional working the intake desk.
Get it Right
Your main job is to take down all the necessary information and enter it into your facility’s computer system so that the health care providers can do their jobs. Your work is the first step in the charting process and must be accurate and complete. Leaving out an important detail, such as an allergy, can be life-threatening. Not getting the correct insurance information, which you often have to verify, can lead to big trouble with the accounting department.
More to Do
Intake specialists in busy practices also file paper copies of records after patients have been seen or admitted, answer the phone to make appointments and call referral professionals to get additional information on patients or clarify instructions. You'll probably have to pull the charts of regular patients and verify insurance coverage. Knowledge of medical coding is often required so that you can fill out the billing paperwork to hand off with the chart.
Training Requirements Vary
Intake specialists require various skills depending on the facility where you work. In a mental health facility, for example, you might need a bachelor’s degree in mental health and be prepared to handle difficult patients. Some facilities require intake specialists to hold an RN or LPN designation. At the very least, you’ll need to have a high school diploma if you work in an office that provides on-the-job training. If you don’t have a nursing degree, you may need to earn a certified medical assistant designation. Certification is available from a number of organizations, each of which has different requirements. Some require online coursework, while others require you to take classes at an accredited school. Many community colleges offer medical assistant certification programs.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."