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How Electronic Patient Referrals Can Help Improve Care and Patient Satisfaction


February 04, 2015 Posted in: Your Practice , Article

As a busy medical professional, the type of patient referrals you utilize may not be at the forefront of your mind. After all, you're focused on what you need to know to keep your patients healthy. However, this technology can help reduce your costs and can lead to an overall better quality of care for your patients.

Twenty-five years ago, Scandinavia spearheaded the movement toward electronic patient referrals, according to Health Informatics New Zealand. Finland was the earliest adopter in 1990, and Denmark followed suit after just five years. Today, the United States health care system is finally ready for a change in the way that referrals are handled.

Improved Efficiency and Accuracy

The transmission of traditional paper referrals is not only painstakingly slow but can also result in suboptimal care due to inaccuracies and inefficiencies when paper trades hands. Electronic patient referral systems, on the other hand, aim to improve the efficiency and communication between primary and specialty health care providers, as detailed by the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Electronic systems allow for an immediate and complete transmission of patient information between providers, which leads to improved clinical decision-making. Unsurprisingly, few people question the merits of electronic systems; instead, the pushback comes in the form of dollars and cents.

We all know that most business decisions boil down to costs: In other words, if moving into the technology age comes at the expense of our pocketbooks, then the likelihood for change is much less. Indeed, the barrier to entry can be daunting. The costs for hardware, software, and training can be quite high, and just like a fax machine, these systems are rendered useless if others are not using them. But shifting to electronic patient referrals can actually increase patient volume and improve your bottom line.

Better Communication Between Providers

One common problem associated with paper referrals is confusion about the scope of care for the primary provider. In contrast, with standardized electronic referrals, providers can work together to create and execute a plan of care, as described by Implementation Science. This eliminates confusion and potential redundancy in care provided across disciplines. It helps to lower costs and reduces the time needed for office visits, according to a report from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and MedCom. And it leads to improved patient retention and satisfaction, as well as time for you to see more patients.

The improved and immediate transmission of information between providers results in a clearer understanding of the patient case by the specialty clinician -- and it improves efficiency during the first office visit and helps the specialist allocate patient time appropriately. The continuous transmission of information between providers, as explained by HealthIT.gov, also allows for the referring physician to be more involved in treatment decision-making. This interdisciplinary approach also allows physicians to work as a team to improve patient outcomes and satisfaction.

Quicker and More Seamless Access to Records

The biggest headache for any clinician is the administrative aspect of health care. Unsurprisingly, the shift to electronic health records and referrals is largely based on minimizing administrative costs and mishaps. Paper referrals are often illegible, lack needed information, and have structures that vary across hospitals, clinics, and providers. The administrative staff then has to organize and track down any missing information. This leads to a lot of wasted time and far too much room for human error. Standardized electronic referrals, on the other hand, do not have problems with legibility, and by virtue of being standardized, take less time to process. They're also more likely to be complete. As detailed by the ACCA and MedCom report, these factors lead to lower administrative costs, quicker scheduling, and happier patients.

So although the switch to an electronic version may seem like an unnecessary expense at first -- once you switch, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.

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