As I travel around daily, meeting with area physicians, I never really hear negative feedback regarding the reputation of the hospital where I am employed as a liaison. In fact, the hospital has a very good reputation. Our specialists are respected and our nursing staff is top notch. Our patient satisfaction scores routinely rank above national averages. So why, you ask, do I have a job?
The answer has everything to do with the referral process.
I recently called on one of my offices who told me that their patients were requesting that they send referrals not only to our hospital – which is located about 15 minutes from this particular office – but also to not one, but two other neighboring hospitals. Both are about 60 minutes from their office. Their patients want an appointment as soon as they can get it and do not care about distance to travel. This was news to me and told me that with all things being fairly equal as far as the quality of care, that patients want to go where they can get in the quickest. While I guess I had already known that to be the case, I did not know that they were actually submitting three referrals only to take the one that could get them in first.
Obviously this creates a huge inconvenience for the offices as they already spend precious time doing the steps to send the referral to one hospital, let alone three. So that made me think, how can we ensure we get the referral first? While there are many factors that play into this, such as access to specialists, here are some steps we as liaisons can take to make sure the process is simple and quick.
- Develop a one page referral sheet that takes just a few minutes to complete for the physician/staff office.
- Have several ways (customized to each physician office if necessary) for offices to send the referral. It could be electronically through an EMR; online through a website; or faxed to a centralized number. One number for all referrals – quick and easy.
- Have a patient follow-up system in place. Whether you call the patient first or they have a number to call you first, this needs to take place within one business day. If the physician’s patient is happy, the physician is happy.
- Access is always critical to capturing referrals and many times out of the liaison’s control, but you can work with internal clinics to help them maximize access. That may include getting creative with blocked time for practices, or double-book to ensure fewer no-shows. Having a reminder call, text or email to the patient is mandatory and can most always be automated.
- Finally, meaningful and timely communication back to the referring physician/office about their patient is critical!
Taking these five simple steps can make all the difference in gaining and keeping referrals. Once you lose those referral patterns, they are very difficult to gain back because physicians and staff simply do not have the extra time to waste learning a new process much less one that is difficult and time consuming to navigate. Do not underestimate the importance of making the referral process easy and quick for your offices, because with all else being equal, that may just be the difference between gaining or losing business.
To find out more about gaining and maintaining referrals and how to use internal data to quickly show referral trends by individual physicians, fill out the form below.