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Updated May 17, 2024

Patient Demographics and Why They’re Important

There's a right way to collect patient demographics and improve communication and trust.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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As anyone who’s ever been to a doctor’s appointment knows, medical offices use registration forms to collect each patient’s name, address, biological sex assigned at birth and more. This information facilitates higher-quality care, but that’s not the whole story. Longtime healthcare practitioners know that collecting patient demographics also addresses several other concerns. Ensuring that your patients’ demographics are collected accurately and updated routinely is essential to running an effective healthcare organization.

What are patient demographics?

Patient demographics are a patient’s basic information. Practices collect patient demographics to provide higher-quality care and to streamline the medical billing and coding process. Patient demographic data overlaps strongly with marketing demographics, but they aren’t exactly the same. Whereas marketers use demographics to determine which consumers might be worth their attention, practitioners use patient demographics to help those already in front of them and to guide the billing process.

What do patient demographics typically include?

Patient demographics almost always include the following information:

  • Full legal name
  • Date of birth
  • Biological sex assigned at birth
  • Gender
  • Contact information, including address
  • Ethnicity
  • Race

Some healthcare entities also consider insurance information, medical history, education and employer as demographic data. However, others view insurance information and medical history as non-demographic patient data. Medical history, in particular, may be more appropriate to include in patient medical charts

Although information about education and employment is highly useful for marketers, it may be less pertinent to healthcare outcomes. In general, though, if you’re gathering specific information from a patient upon their appointment registration or check-in, you can qualify it as a patient demographic.

Did You Know?Did you know
Practices commonly verify patient healthcare insurance when gathering demographic information before an appointment.

Why are patient demographics important?

Here are a few reasons why it’s essential for practices to collect patient demographics:

  • Patient demographics guide the billing process. Under a definition that includes insurance information, patient demographics determine the payers from which you should seek reimbursement. Demographics that include insurance information tell you where to send your final bill and how you can follow up on unpaid medical claims. If you fail to collect this demographic information, you might experience delays in your billing process.
  • Patient demographics streamline patient communications. Sending patient statements to an outdated address does your practice no favors, and collecting patient demographics prevents this problem. Likewise, if you’re calling patients to confirm appointments or to seek payment on overdue bills, calling an outdated phone number will prove fruitless. Most medical software offers patient engagement tools, such as automated patient reminders and a patient portal. These tools can reduce no-shows and cancellations while helping to educate your patients and get them more involved in their health and wellness.
  • Patient demographics improve care. A patient’s demographics can help flag health risk factors. For example, since 1 in 5 women 50 years and older has osteoporosis, you’ll know to check for osteoporosis in patients with corresponding demographics. This preventive approach supports emerging value-based care models that can improve patient outcomes.
  • Patient demographics increase cultural competency. A patient’s demographics may correspond with specific lived experiences and views that practitioners should consider during patient encounters. For example, medical mistrust is common among Black Americans. A culturally competent practitioner should care for Black patients while keeping this trend and its origins in mind. Patient demographics are the starting point for doing so.

How to collect and track patient demographics

As with all patient intake and registration processes, demographic collection and tracking processes should be standardized. Many practice management experts have repeatedly observed unreliable patient demographics collection and tracking processes. The following tips and tricks can help your practice avoid this issue. 

1. Ask the right questions.

You may ask your patient, “Is your information up to date?” This question results in one of two outcomes: The patient has to spend time finding your information on them, or they just assume their information is correct. Neither outcome is ideal. You want the patient intake process to be as efficient as possible, and patients who assume your information is correct can be wrong. 

To solve this problem, ensure that your question immediately presents your patient with the data you’re asking about. Instead of asking, “Is your information up to date?” ask, “Is 123-456-7890 still the best phone number for you?” or “Can you please provide your current phone number?” You should ask similar questions about the patient’s address, insurance and emergency contact. 

2. Know how to ask the right questions.

Developing a list of highly specific questions for demographic collection is different from knowing the best way to obtain that information. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear stories of patients feeling disrespected when asked for their demographics. Additionally, some patients might decline to share specific types of information. To avoid this obstacle, determine how to ask your essential demographic questions.

Consider your method of communication. Having a nurse collect demographics by phone when the patient calls to make an appointment can create privacy concerns for the patient. Switching to an online registration portal may feel more private because patients can walk through the process alone at home. 

Think about it like this: Do you think your patients would feel comfortable sharing stigmatized conditions or demographic data with people with no hands-on role in their healthcare? Probably not. Knowing who should ask demographic collection questions and when to use online portals instead creates a much-needed privacy barrier. 

TipTip
A patient kiosk can help practices confirm demographic information quickly while reducing front-office staff's workload and speeding up check-in.

3. Learn which collection tools authorities recommend or require.

No two medical practices will collect and track patient data exactly the same way. However, all practices must do so in accordance with specific guidelines and regulations. One such regulation is the Quality Improvement Strategy (QIS) program, which the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) oversees. QIS is designed to encourage better patient outcomes with fewer hospitalizations, and the CMS website details QIS patient data collection best practices.

Your practice also may be subject to state-level patient demographic regulations. For example, in Massachusetts, hospitals are required to collect race and ethnicity data for inpatient, observation unit and ER stays. The exact language of the Massachusetts law includes this important stretch of text: “[A] recommended data collection tool has been developed … to standardize efforts across hospitals.”

This language states that all practices to which the law applies should use the same technology to collect patient demographics. Although this language doesn’t require using the tool in question, a government recommendation is strong enough to all but count as a mandate for many organizations. So, if language like this governs data collection in your state, you should follow it.

As in Massachusetts, many states have their own rules that apply to certain types of medical facilities or practitioners. Consult other practitioners in your field or medical law experts in your area to determine your requirements.

4. Set up your EMR system for easy data intake.

After collecting your data, you’ll need a place to store it. Increasingly, that place is within an electronic medical record (EMR) platform. These platforms make patient data available with just a few clicks and protect it with digital security measures that are more robust than physical storage. They also allow for efficient, streamlined access across your practice and easy sharing with practitioners at other facilities. 

That said, not every practice currently uses EMR systems. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data collected in 2021 shows that 11.8 percent of office-based physicians don’t yet have an EMR system. The good news is that finding the right EMR system for your practice can be easy.

The best EMR software for monitoring patient demographics

Various EMR systems can accommodate practices of all sizes and types. After your practice implements an EMR platform, the patient demographic collection process becomes much more manageable.

Whether you’re new to EMR and electronic health record (EHR) systems or you’re looking for a change, review our picks for the best EMR and EHR software to begin your journey. Here are some top options:

  • Tebra: Over our years of reviewing Tebra’s medical software, we’ve found it offers the user-friendliest approach to adding information, including demographics, to patient charts. We find it just as intuitive to navigate the entire Tebra platform, from login all the way to the most granular medical tools and features. Read our Tebra medical software review to learn all about this EHR platform’s offerings.
  • CareCloud: This EHR platform includes patient portal tools that help patients edit their demographics. There are also custom and preset note-taking templates, so you can add patients’ demographics to their charts in whatever manner you find easiest. Learn more in our CareCloud medical software review.
  • athenahealth: Although many medical software platforms offer the convenience of medical speech-to-text through third-party integrations, this feature is built into athenahealth’s EMR system. This functionality makes it especially easy to add patients’ demographics to their charts. Check out our athenahealth medical software review to explore this vendor’s data-focused approach to EHR software.
  • DrChrono: Unlike other EHR providers, DrChrono doesn’t charge you extra to import your patients’ demographics from another software platform. You can take notes via templates that are specific to certain types of appointments, thereby streamlining how you add patients’ demographics to their charts. Read our DrChrono medical software review for more details on how this EHR system streamlines your patient charting.
  • AdvancedMD: This EHR platform allows you to create reports that prioritize your patient demographics. You’ll see these demographics the moment you pull up a patient’s chart, immediately allowing you to offer higher-quality care. Learn more in our AdvancedMD medical software review.

Patient demographics are the start of great medical care

Whether your patients add their own demographics to your EHR or you collect them in person during encounters, this data informs your treatment plans. After all, medical solutions that work for one patient might prove ineffective for another based on their demographics. Collecting patient demographics is thus more than a formality; it’s the start of the best possible patient outcomes.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Max Freedman has spent nearly a decade providing entrepreneurs and business operators with actionable advice they can use to launch and grow their businesses. Max has direct experience helping run a small business, performs hands-on reviews and has real-world experience with the categories he covers, such as accounting software and digital payroll solutions, as well as leading small business lenders and employee retirement providers. Max has written hundreds of articles for Business News Daily on a range of valuable topics, including small business funding, time and attendance, marketing and human resources.
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