With coordination of care a major aspect of healthcare delivery, mistakes in the process lead to patient dissatisfaction or possibly worse. An excess of frustration in a patient's experience often leads them to pursue other primary care options. Fortunately, the emergence of electronic referral management technology can reduce errors significantly when referring to network specialists. The advantages of an electronic referral network can be seen and measured within those HCOs that adopted them early. As medical enterprises continue to implement the systems, better care coordination and happier patients will be the result.
Paperless Records Transfer
With nearly universal use of EHR applications, the days of copying or faxing patient files should come to an end soon. By granting access to the entire electronic patient file, no data gets accidentally left behind. When a PCP instigates a referral, the whole set of records becomes accessible to the specialist along with the consultative questions.
Clear Questions Help Specialists Triage Referrals
Handwritten consultative questions are all too often confusing or illegible to specialists. When a standardized form is used to transmit the data and queries, specialists usually find the questions expressed with greater clarity and so turn back referrals less often. Plus, they can determine if they are the right specialist for the patient's needs and either recommend a better specialty or accept the referral.
PCP Receives Better Guides for Pre-visit Workups
When the specialist has the complete picture from the PCP, the correct workups can be ordered before an appointment is set, if needed. Also, as the specialist can see in the EHR which tests have already occurred, duplication of those tests can be avoided, saving costs and patient displeasure. Test results and all activity information from the specialist are pushed back to the EHR for easy monitoring and tracking of the patient's care by the primary.
Reduces Avoidable Follow-up Appointments
The PCP can track the progress of treatment by the specialist and once it wraps up, can recall the patient for the follow-up appointment. The patient, and the patient's payer, avoid a superfluous meeting with the specialist.
Automated Appointment Notification Letters
Once a patient sets an appointment time, the electronic referral management system can be programmed to automatically generate letters to the patient that remind them of the appointment. It can also trigger automated phone messaging for the same purpose. Primaries can also see when appointments have been arranged, whether the patient showed and follow up if the patient failed to show.
Easy Tracking of Referrals
With automatic notifications, the activity on the referral, or lack thereof, can be tracked so patient care has fewer opportunities fall through the cracks in a busy practice. Consult responses can receive prompt attention or a resubmission made if the response is long delayed. Once treatment by the specialist is complete, the referral loop is closed.
Electronic referral networks take systems once fraught with inefficiencies and streamline them. They enhance the process of collaborative care while saving staff time and forestalling the common errors. Continuity of care of both outbound and inbound patients benefits from the smooth transitions from primary to specialist and back to primary. Because processes, data and performances can all be tracked, meaningful use can easily be measured and analyzed. Also, with available metrics, primaries can rate the network's specialty care organizations for the quality of services rendered. The transparency afforded by the system encourages greater accountability across the entire network.
Clearly, an electronic referral network can bring about better patient care and experience, which leads to greater retention of patients and a solid ROI.