A critical, but often-overlooked, aspect of the referral process is cultivating provider partnerships that facilitate referrals and enhance the continuum of care. The continued emphasis on value-based care will result in increasing numbers of physicians working together to coordinate care, especially for patients with chronic conditions. While the traditional referral system is generally regarded as inadequate, best practices can help you optimize working relationships with collaborating physicians.
- A referral partner should embrace technology and collaborate with you to make the referral process as seamless as possible. Referral advocates can adopt software solutions that allow you to fill out forms without requiring tedious, repetitive data entry. Partners should be willing to consider systems that do not require you to enter extremely long account or ID numbers for every referral. Poor tracking contributes to inefficient care, inappropriate referrals, frustrated patients, and malpractice lawsuits. Technology should make the referral process easy to monitor.
- Frequently, patient records contain missing or incomplete information. Referral partners must provide thorough, accurate documentation to other members of the referral team to optimize care delivery.
- It is especially helpful when a specialist offers flexible scheduling so that a referred patient can be seen as soon as possible. Offering patient-centered care encourages clinicians and patients alike to have confidence in providers.
- A referral partner should make communication a priority, since poor communication is one of the primary flaws in traditional referral systems. Care is further enhanced when providers know the types of information their colleagues value most. Research suggests that referring physicians need to improve the quality of information they provide to consulting physicians, as PCPs and specialists sometimes assign differing value to certain types of information. Since 30% of missed or delayed diagnoses are attributed to poor hand-offs, failure to define responsibility, and the like, a critical component of communication is defining each provider's role and discussing the best way to coordinate care. It's also important to be responsive when a physician contacts sends an electronic message.
- Collaborating physicians should also submit information in a timely manner. In 64% of cases, consulting physicians reported receiving information from PCPs at least 7 days after the patient visit. According to survey results, 25% of PCPs reported that they still had not received information from a specialist four weeks after the patient's visit to the consulting physician.
Enhance Your Partnership
- Ask for feedback to be sure you're providing collaborating physicians with what they need. Be willing to accept advice on how to improve.
- An especially effective referral partner is willing to dedicate a reasonable amount of time and creativity to generate more referrals. They can use social platforms, newsletters, direct mailers, and banner ads on websites to engage with prospective patients and other providers.
- A little courtesy goes a long way. Don't forget to express your appreciation for the providers in your partnership. A handwritten note to say "thank you" shows partners they're not taken for granted and is always appropriate.
Successful partnerships promote accountability. An effective referral partner authentically provides quality care and is enthusiastic about cultivating professional relationships with other providers. You will feel more comfortable sending patients to someone you trust. Trust allows you to build on each other's credibility and create a cross-referral network. Providers who truly care about patients and the clinicians they collaborate with are likely to provide better care. Strong partnerships create an opportunity to collaborate with like-minded professionals, mutually adding value to the practice.