Today's healthcare model requires that services be patient-centered. Additional challenges arise, though, when care needs to be coordinated among multiple providers. From 1999-2009, the number of primary care visits resulting in a referral increased by 159%. Research strongly indicates that referring physicians need to improve the quality of information they provide to consulting physicians. When surveyed, 63% of PCPs and 35% of specialists report dissatisfaction with the current referral process. Paper referrals often do not provide adequate information. In other cases, consult reports are not delivered in a timely manner. Many referrals do not even include transmission of information, either to or from specialists.
Consequently, PCPs do not always know if a patient has seen a specialist. Furthermore, up to 80% of ACO clinicians report that one of their greatest challenges is a lack of interoperability among data systems, particularly when attempting to locate information from out-of-network providers. Physicians consistently indicate that improvements are needed in the referral system to optimize patient care.
Testing an Electronic Referral System
The implementation of an electronic referral system enhances direct communication between PCPs and specialists regarding their mutual patients. Providers observe better appointment tracking, improved access to specialty care, and increased consult report compliance and follow-up. In addition, referral systems appeal to front-office staff because of its intuitive user interface and human-centered design. When providers can easily access needed information, they're empowered to deliver better care.
Share the Care...And Automate the Workflow
Streamlining processes and improving communication between practitioners can be achieved with a two-fold strategy. First, all stakeholders need to function as a team to "share the care." Clinicians and non-clinicians alike can share responsibilities in three areas: prescription refills, chronic care management, and panel management. However, they'll be limited in their ability to do this unless they can minimize tedious or time-consuming tasks, such as playing phone tag with clinicians or completing paperwork manually. Not only can automated workflows improve care coordination and delivery, but they can also foster patient engagement and satisfaction. By offering education and other health services to prevent subsequent health problems, practices are reducing the number of hospital admissions aor additional visits to a provider.
Electronic resources that streamline processes empower care teams to improve patient care. Continuity of care prevents patients from seeing more than one clinician for the same problem. Patient histories are maintained through the electronic exchange of information, documents are no longer lost in the abyss of Direct Secure Messaging (DSM), and care coordinators no longer need to check regularly to make sure patients are up-to-date on their care. If they're overdue for an appointment or some other procedure, automated alerts let office assistants know, and they can set up appointments, fill prescriptions, or relay information without clinical oversight.
Automated workflows make it easier to streamline processes by assigning specific roles to team members to standardize guideline-directed care.
Automation Fuels Prevention
Seventeen percent of PCPs' time is spent on preventive care, which could easily be delegated to RNs and PAs. Streamlining data across integrated systems gives providers more time to focus on care delivery. With electronic records and automated alerts, staff can help patients avoid gaps in care. RNs and NPs have additional time to educate patients about how to be more proactive about their health. Thus, practices can help to reduce emergency room visits or subsequent appointments with the primary care provider or consulting physicians.
A team approach to healthcare, supported by automated workflows, enhances care coordination and accountability, leading to increased provider and patient satisfaction.