Traditional referral intake systems haven’t changed significantly in the past 30 years. Rather, they are still based on paper and fax referrals that often get lost in the shuffle of busy days and patient care needs. This reliance on old-school methods flies in the face of significant connectivity and communication adoptions that are being successfully leveraged in other industries. Between the barrage of phone calls and faxes flowing between provider offices, provider office administrators struggle to confirm patient information, locate missing labs and medical records, and keep track of inefficient and disruptive back and forth conversations to facilitate quality patient care. With disparate EHRs, scheduling software, and office procedures, provider networks have historically lacked a shared language and a standardized process to easily connect and communicate.
Under this traditional model, even in the best-organized offices, the administrative point person – the patient coordinator – deploys basic spreadsheets or a handwritten sticky note with limited sharing functionality to help make sense of the referral and health data chaos. This type of analog reporting takes hours, and the information and procedures get siloed into that individual patient coordinator’s workflow with no visibility or accountability. As this position is one of high turnover, the knowledge and process efficiency disappears with each resignation. These archaic methods often lead to patients slipping through the cracks and never getting the callbacks needed to close the loop and schedule appointments. While this is a huge issue for patients seeking critical care from providers they are referred to, this also has serious impacts on a full health system’s patient and revenue leakage. Ditching the old school model for streamlined technology can change the paradigm and enhance the care coordination process for both patients and providers.
To address their care coordination challenges, provider organizations need the ability to communicate efficiently and effectively, regardless of the native software of each provider office. With an agnostic overlay that works with all EHRs and vendors, this technology can pass critical information among providers that their initial tech infrastructure wasn’t designed to manage. Additionally, implementing patient coordinator technology that makes tracking referrals every step of the way is a must, as it allows patient coordinators to follow up with prospective patients in a timely manner and ultimately convert more referrals into patients seen. This improves patient health outcomes and the revenue of the network as a whole. This type of technology also dramatically increases accountability across the provider network—eliminating the “blame game” that too often ensues when administrative barriers and errors delay much-needed care.
When leveraging new technology, it is important to not add to the administrative burden of providers, even as we improve the connection of provider offices. Physicians already experience a significant degree of burnout due to the administrative burdens of mandatory reporting, so keeping referral technology and management outside of the exam room should be health leaders’ top priority.
With this level of connectivity, ACOs, health system,s and the broader provider collective can lay the foundation for a network of excellence, where patients are supported and shepherded between each point of care within their health care ecosystem. More referrals can be processed, and of those, more appointments can get scheduled. As a result, providers can enjoy greater volumes of new patient registrations, a notoriously tricky population to recruit and retain. Additionally, by building better patient communication and communication tracking, provider organizations decreased cancellation and no-show rates, cutting back on wasted clinician time and lost revenue.
Provider organizations may look at their budgets and think the traditional model of fax machines and landlines is serving their entity in optimizing revenue streams. They may even look at their providers’ full schedules and believe there isn’t a patient population that still needs care. But this would be a miscalculation. Without appropriate methods to close the gap on referrals and communicate appointment information to patients, no-show and cancellation rates risk burdening providers and costing practices and health systems millions. With the right technology and procedures at the care coordinator level, patients in need of care can be seen quickly. Patients that otherwise would slip through the cracks in a health system’s infrastructure are connected with the care they desperately need. Finally, with this increased connectivity and patient care, provider organizations can continue to expand their networks and connect with more providers and services to make sure they stay competitive and relevant across the health care ecosystem.
Curtis Gattis is a health care executive.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com