Here are three tactical ways primary care practices can improve the patient referral processes and see immediate improvements in patient followthrough with referral appointments.
1. Dedicate staff members to actively manage referrals
Designate members of the front desk or administrative team as the practice’s referral coordinators. The referral coordinators orchestrate the referral process and track the progress and outcomes of each patient referral. Referral coordinators should be good communicators who work well with patients and providers, both inside and outside the practice. Referral coordinators should also be highly organized, familiar with the practice’s information systems and time expectations for various referrals, and be willing to take persistent action to facilitate and track referrals.
2. Create scalable, repeatable referral workflows to ensure the referral loop gets closed
To the greatest extent possible, the practice should create standardized referral workflows that are scalable, repeatable, and transparent. Too often, referrals are handled ad hoc by multiple members of the staff, using faxes and phone calls to transit patient information and track referrals. That system is inefficient and opaque—patients are lost and potentially catastrophic outcomes can ensue. Rather, all referrals should be routed through the referral coordinators so that the referrals can be tracked. Ideally, the referral coordinators would utilized an automated, end to end referral management solution like Fibroblast, which guides patient referrals to the most appropriate network provider, ensures the timely two-way flow of information between providers needed to complete the referral process, and tracks referrals in real time. After all, the referral doesn’t actually happen until the patient receives the care or services the patient needs; the referral loop isn’t closed until the referring provider receives information back from the consulting provider about the patient’s care.
3. Engage the patient with referral-related messages
The most important and most overlooked stakeholder in the entire referral process is the patient. The most common reasons why patients do not follow up on referrals for care are confusion by the process and frustration over scheduling an appointment. What is more, recent research indicates that 72% of patients would like to communicate with their medical providers over email and 63% would like to communicate by text message. The practice should adopt an automated patient messaging application, like the one offered by Fibroblast. By sending patients automated, preference-sensitive messages about their referrals, the practice keeps patients informed and engaged, greatly increasing appointment attendance rates and promoting better patient outcomes.