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If The Shoe Fits

Tiller-Hewitt HealthCare Strategies’ Partners – Guest Blog Series

Laurie Frank, Physician Liaison. St. Joseph Hospital, Highland, IL.

I like shoes. I can’t help it, but I do. I think it started when I worked in a shoe store during college. You know, the old-fashioned shoe store, where the clerk sat on that funny shaped stool, and actually fit your foot into the shoe. I’m dating myself, but the point is, finding a good shoe for those customers back in the day is quite a bit similar to providing the right fit for my hospital’s physicians and their referral staff.

More than just getting to where you’re going, a good shoe can get you there without pinching your toes. Hospital – Physician relationships need to be like that beloved pair; working together to reach the destination, with no blisters.

So how do we, as hospitals, achieve that goal of being the destination? How do we convince Primary Care Providers (PCP) to refer to a specialist at our facility? We anticipate the needs of our referral sources and their patients, and then provide an easily traveled path to our door.

The shortest distance from Point A to Point B…..

Is making a referral to your hospital for a test, procedure, or a direct admission a smooth process? Do your physician offices have the tools they need to reach the correct department (accurate referral forms, updated phone directories, etc)? Check with your Radiology and Rehab Departments to see if their referral pads need to be freshened up, are easy to use, and provide the necessary information so they don’t need to call the physician’s office to make clarifications. A shoeshine, so to speak. Physician offices are busy places, and they’ll appreciate the effort to decrease interruptions/delays to patient care.

Have a conversation with your hospital’s scheduling staff. Do they have frustrations when receiving phone calls and/or order forms via fax? If so, their frustration may be coming across the phone line when speaking to the referral source which could jeopardize the next call to your hospital from that physician. What about referring to your specialist? Does the PCP scheduling the test/procedure have to jump through hoops to make the referral? If so, it’s like getting your toes pinched in a pair of ill-fitting shoes; they won’t be the pair you choose when you’re trying to get to your destination.

Paved sidewalks vs The Oregon Trail

It’s no secret that people vote with their feet. Physicians and their referral staff guide their patients from there to here, and if the road is too curvy, rocky, full of potholes, (because the hospital has provided them with a difficult path) their shoes are likely to become pointed toward the facility down the street. Consider hosting a time for your referral sources to tour your facility. When they’ve walked in your hallways, have a visual of your space, and most importantly, meet the person they speak to on the phone, they’ve begun to build a stronger relationship with your facility. Since the visit is not associated with a specific referral, it could open the door for dialogue on how these colleagues can help one another when making/receiving a referral.
Just as importantly, encourage your Department Directors, Specialists in certain departments (radiologists, hospitalists, etc.), and Senior Leadership to meet referral sources in the providers’ offices as well. Taking the time to meet on their turf has been demonstrated to have exponentially positive results.

We know that even if we’ve done everything right in the past, we sometimes get tripped up, maybe even stumble and fall. Time for more than a Band-Aid©! Get your treads over to the office where the slip occurred, and work to return to the fit you had previously, with an honest pledge to avoid a recurrence. And then, follow up with them again to make certain your pledge is holding true. It might be like wearing new shoes; a little uncomfortable, maybe a bit snug for a while, but with careful wear on a smooth route, you’ll become the favorite pair again and the walk from their office to your hospital will stay well-traveled.

Four years have flown by since Laurie Frank became a Physician Liaison at a Southern Illinois hospital. Previously, she practiced as a Physical Therapist Assistant for more than 25 years.