By Miranda Crowell
For some people, going to the doctor is a daunting endeavor. The immediate questions can seem just as stressful as the health problem itself: What day can I take off work? How long will this appointment take? Will my insurance cover this visit? Referrals can multiply these problems for patients because it is human nature to attach the act of referring to a bona fide health problem.
So what happens when a patient referral is made? The referral process is different from one doctor’s office to the next, but in a tech-driven economy, patients are puzzled when they are given a prescription pad with scribbles that instruct them to go see a second doctor. The patient then must keep track of the one-fourth sized sheet of paper, call the second doctor to schedule an appointment, and pray to the health gods that the appropriate information is securely transferred from the referring physician to the specialist. Giuliana Martinez is a prime example. Following an unfortunate night-time cleaning incident, Giuliana was certain that her arm was broken. After “yelping” her way to a 24-hour emergency room, Giuliana’s fears were confirmed: her arm was indeed broken and required a visit to an orthopedist. Giuliana was one of the lucky ones, in that the referral was made to the orthopedist that was on call that night, so the doctor had some background knowledge going into the next visit. But, having a background in healthcare, she was uncomfortable with the lack of autonomy she had in choosing her orthopedist.
Referral woes are not just a patient problem; at the core, this is a physician issue. Once the primary care doctor makes the referral, they lose some control and risk management becomes a real concern. (More on medical malpractice risk management in a future blog post!) As James Merlino, M.D., President and Founder of the Association for Patient Experience puts it, “It’s not about making patients happy over quality. It’s about safe care first, high quality care, and then satisfaction.” Quality, safe care can include a pleasant and enjoyable patient experience, even in the referral process. This may require what some people fear the most: change. Changing the referral process does not have to be high stress endeavor, and a technology-based referral process can have a big payoff. Forbes considers this a balance of “systems and smiles,” stating that “Done right, the work you do on patient satisfaction, on improving the patient experience, will also contribute to improving your medical outcomes.” Micah Solomon implies that there is a link between health systems and positive patient experience, noting that improving systems, such as patient referrals, will improve “smiles.”
For this perfect intersection of quality care and a positive patient experience to occur, the process must be at least on par with customer expectations. At a minimum, the patient experience is kindness and efficiency. In a world of calling for a car with a phone application, having groceries delivered to your home, and booking doctor appointments on websites like ZocDoc, its no wonder that technology has found its way to the healthcare industry. This begs the question: why has the referral process been left behind? By incorporating new technology into the referral process, customers will not be sent back to the Stone Age to schedule their next doctor’s appointment. Patient benefits include, but are certainly not limited to, booking the referral appointment at the point of care, ensuring that insurance concerns are eliminated, and receiving reminders about the future appointment. Giuliana would have been empowered with choices in her own treatment and booking the appointment right from the ER could have been a breeze, all with an electronic referral system in place that is right for the particular organization. From the physician’s perspective, increased in-network referrals, increased downstream revenue, and increased patient expectations make the change worthwhile. In short, booking a referral can be made as quickly as the patient can reference their iPhone calendar. While the kindness expectation is up to the staff, the efficiency component can certainly by shifting to a technology-based referral process. It is possible for the referral process to be on par with the rest of our tech-driven society, and when considering how to make this happen, consider Fibroblast.