Guest post by Mark Hefner, CEO, Infina Connect Healthcare Systems.
Various forms of payment reform are in play throughout US healthcare today, and with good reason as we search for the right combination of incentives, alignment and engagement that produce systemically better health outcomes at lower overall cost.
As an example, providers are paying much more attention to the small percentage of patients with the highest costs, including patients with chronic conditions. As a result, they are identifying these patients, establishing care plans and engaging care coordinators and patients to improve outcomes. Less attention, however, is being focused on the powerful capability to better connect, communicate and coordinate care among the multiple providers that care for a patient. This caliber of care coordination has the potential to improve outcomes across the entire patient population and is rooted in results that suggest a coordinated network of providers, each capable of high quality and cost effective care, with appropriate information about the patient available to them, can deliver improved outcomes across large patient populations.
Patient populations may be systemically managed under various forms of accountable care, commercial shared savings, Medicare Advantage and full risk – or managed by episodes of care, bundled payments, etc. The shift from fee-for-service to “fee-for-value” incentivizes preventive care, best practice care, and high-value delivery of care and it puts a premium on the ability to coordinate care.
Therein lies a very significant challenge: The collective group of providers that interact with a large patient population are invariably part of different organizations, with different technology platforms or no platform at all and are dependent upon fax machines, phones, and paper to exchange documents and communicate. The provider groups also possess differing incentives: the “at-risk” provider attempts to influence improved health and financial outcomes while other providers may still be receiving fee-for-service payments.
Reconciling these challenges and harnessing the power of care coordination is now possible via referral coordination. One of the most powerful mechanisms for coordinating care are the hundreds of thousands of patient referrals made every day between various providers, with Primary Care Providers (PCP) being the largest initiator of consulting and diagnostic referrals on behalf of their patients. Providers need to communicate with each other when they are treating the same patient, and these patient transitions between providers represent a significant opportunity to realize high value care.
The referral itself is equivalent to a PCP or patient making a decision on which provider to “hire” to provide the needed care. This referral decision and the coordination of the referral are critical to the delivery of better health at lower cost, but improving the overall referral process requires key elements to be implemented consistently: