Effective communication is at the heart of success or failure in patient care. This is never more evident than in the relationship between Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) and the Specialists they refer their patients to for follow up examination. The best PCPs provide their patients with an ongoing relationship - they serve as a mentor or partner in health, helping patients understand their specific needs and making recommendations when appropriate. The benefit for patients in developing long-term relationships with their PCP is that they have a trusted physician who knows their history and can more easily assess warning symptoms for new ailments and lifestyle changes appropriate for health risks.
Traditionally, PCPs made referrals but the communication line after that often drops. It's estimated that patients don't follow up with about 50% of their referrals. Then too, when the patient does move forward with a scheduled visit to the specialist, there's often a lack of communication between the PCP and the specialist. In the past, specialists often weren't contacted by the referring physician in advance and they had not received patient information prior to the patient's first visit. Often that information was sent after a request by the specialist, forcing front office staff to spend an unnecessary amount of time chasing down and sending last-minute patient information.
The line of communication back to the PCP might drop, too, with a delay in receiving updates on the patient's care through the specialist. Today, technology allows organizations to fill these gaps of information loss with far less time expense.
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Better Records for Accountable Patient Care
The key factor in lack of follow through between PCP and specialists was always time constraints. Even as technology evolved, organizations ran into the issue that not every practice used compatible systems, making sharing of records more manual and time consuming. Then, too, EHRs are often an excellent tool for patient records within your organization but the technology doesn't specifically allow for better management of follow up in regard to referrals.
Electronic referral networks offer an excellent technological alternative for organizations to better manage and streamline the automation of the referral process. In this scenario, the physician is able to use a platform outside of their own internal EHR. The specialists are also members of the same platform, so the sharing of records and updating of information on a patient by patient basis is far more efficient. This process can be automated, so that care coordinators and front-office staff are automatically alerted when the information needs to be updated on a patient.
Ideally, PCP and specialists will develop protocol that better automates the communication process to avoid pitfalls of the past, where patients dropped out of care through lack of follow up.