Guest post by Andy Ridinger, director of client experience, MyHealthDirect.
Despite much of the uncertainty facing the future of the health care industry, the shift to value-based care is not going to go away. Regardless of what new laws may decide, organizations need care coordination tools now more than ever to be successful. Doctors and hospital officials continue to cite care coordination as a key advantage in accountable care models, which seek to more tightly integrate providers and maintain joint financial incentives that deliver better-quality and lower-cost services.
In the United States, more than a third of patients are referred to a specialist each year, and specialist visits constitute more than half of outpatient visits. Referrals are the crucial link between primary and specialty care. Yet despite this frequency, the referral process itself has been a great frustration for many years. The transformation to value-based healthcare is well underway with a shift away from the quantity of patients to the achievement of better health outcomes.
The current state of the specialty-referral process in the U.S. provides substantial opportunities for improvement, as there are breakdowns and inefficiencies throughout. These are inevitable when the process hinges on a patient following through on a slip of paper. It is no wonder that of the one third of patients that receive referrals, 20 percent never follow through to schedule a visit. Of the referrals that are completed, a host of other challenges often result. Sometimes it is just a disconnect of information between the two providers but can be an incorrect provider altogether. The final outcome is poor for everyone involved; patient, referrer, and target provider alike.
To improve the referral process and care coordination, here are four strategies to facilitate greater convenience in care coordination initiatives:
Make it digital
Just by enabling online booking, referral lead times (time between a PCP and specialist office visit) decrease by up to 36 percent, and show rates improve by 20 percent. Additionally, on the spot booking to a specialist reduces patient leakage for health systems. It can guarantee that care is rendered by the best-suited physicians within your preferred network.
Make it best-fit
The most effective appointment maximizes show rates and minimizes lead times. A provider must select the preferred physician with the earliest availability at a time the patient is likely to show up. Optimized scheduling can yield up to a five times increase in referral completion rates.
Make it measurable
The best way to improve referral completion rates and reduce lead times is to capture the relevant data points in a timely manner so that you can track changes over time. Presenting the data in an easily consumable and actionable format is equally critical.
Connect the docs
To know if patients complete visits, it is critical that all parties share the right information and facilitate two-way communication in real time. A primary care physician making a referral is far better equipped to manage a patient’s health if she receives show status and notes back from the specialist visit as soon as that information is entered into the specialist’s electronic health record.
This approach makes referral management more efficient for everyone. Regardless of the direction that future laws take, organizations need care coordination tools which streamline and ensure success. Improving the referral process deserves greater attention and many of the mechanisms to improve it, including use of IT and payment reform, are promising. The shift to value-based care is going to require that organizations focus more and more on each part of care coordination. In the long run, the benefits will help improve quality measures while sharply enhancing the patient experience both for the consumer and for the practice coordinators.