How to Improve Referral Closure for More Satisfied Patients, Staff and Providers

Today’s health IT leaders are laser-focused on improving the patient experience. This includes evaluating referral management gaps and strategies to improve referral closure by providing patients with seamless scheduling... 

January 27, 2022

Effective management of referrals for specialty care, testing, and procedures like mammograms and other cancer screenings is critical to patient care, especially given many of these visits are for important diagnostics or treatment. But research has shown that only 35% of patient referrals end in a documented visit with a provider. And when referrals aren’t closed, health outcomes suffer, patients feel frustrated, and healthcare organizations risk quality and financial goals. 

Perhaps the most significant risk associated with referral gaps is patient care and satisfaction. Today’s health IT leaders are already laser-focused on improving the patient experience—according to an Intrado survey of College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) members, 91% of respondents indicated it’s a top priority. Because of this, there’s never been a better time to evaluate these referral management strategies to provide patients with seamless scheduling that more easily connects them with care. 

From Manual Workload… 

Scheduling and call center staff members balance a lot of manual communication between patients, the health system, and even the referring physician, in their efforts to close a referral. Often, this involves making outbound phone calls, leaving voicemails, as well as handling inbound calls. Time spent playing the game of “phone tag” is not only inefficient but can leave staff and patients feeling exasperated with inconvenient calls. Worse yet, some patients may have no intention of scheduling a procedure, and call center staff will spend hours attempting to reach these individuals. Meanwhile, patients who do want to schedule may spend too much time dealing with phone trees or waiting on hold.

…to Modern Workflow 

Today, automated, closed-loop workflows are available to streamline these interactions and ultimately improve referral closure rates. This approach allows health systems to customize and send just-in-time outreach via the patient’s preferred channel (SMS text messages, phone or email) when the referral is ready to schedule. Patients can then be connected directly with a registrar to set their appointment without waiting on hold or dealing with difficult-to-navigate phone trees. And the most advanced patient engagement platforms are deeply embedded in the leading EHRs, leveraging data from these systems to keep patients, staff and clinicians in the loop along the referral closure path—even automatically creating calendar appointments that are written back to the patient’s record. 

For example, Froedtert Health & the Medical College of Wisconsin implemented a closed-loop, automated referral management workflow that engaged patients over the phone or via SMS to connect these individuals directly with a scheduler in the moment the appointment was ready to schedule. The health system also timed this outreach in specific intervals that accommodated Froedtert’s staffing volumes and availability. Previously, Froedtert staff were spending a lot of time manually contacting patients by phone and leaving voicemails that went unreturned. But after its initial deployment, the health system was able to improve referral closure rates by turning a multi-week process into a three-day referral-to-appointment workflow. Based on these impressive results, Froedtert expanded this campaign from three departments to over 30 specialties within weeks.

Best Practices to Automate and Improve Referral Closure

Identifying the right referrals and automating these time-consuming processes positively impacts the patient experience and relieves the burden on staff. To get started with this approach and learn best practices to improve referral closure, read our new eBook, Closing Referral Gaps by Automating Patient Engagement.  

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