As many as 50 percent of physician referrals are never completed.
Sometimes it’s due to a communication breakdown between doctors and patients. Sometimes it’s simply because patients forget to schedule or keep a referral appointment.
We launched WELL Referrals to improve the patient referral workflow. Our messaging helps office staff schedule appointments and helps patients keep them.
Reasons for referral leakage
There are many reasons patients don’t complete their referral appointments. One study found that 30 percent of patients simply forgot to attend or to cancel their referral appointment. Another 26 percent had no reason for missing it, 10 percent were due to clerical errors, 8 percent felt better, and the rest cited miscellaneous reasons.
For patients, this can result in delayed or missed diagnoses. For healthcare systems, it’s poor patient outcomes, potential malpractice cases, and unused slots in specialists’ schedules. Referral leakage ultimately means lost revenue. A system for communicating clearly with patients and reminding them of the referral could recover as many as 70 percent of missed referrals.
Improving patient referral workflow
WELL created its new referral messaging system to help you stop referral leakage. Here’s how it works:
- After a provider places a referral order, the patient receives an invitation to book an appointment through their desired communication method (text, phone, or email) from the referred specialist.
- If a patient responds yes, the specialists’ office can continue the conversation via text, call, or email to set up the appointment — again, whatever the patient prefers.
- If a patient says no or doesn’t respond to the final message, WELL will send this response back to the EMR, closing the referral.
- If a patient gives no response, the message can be repeated. The number of messages and the intervals are completely configurable to best align with your practice.
After an appointment is scheduled, the patient gets reminders at scheduled intervals. Because WELL offers truly bidirectional texting, patients can ask questions and receive automated responses, and staff members can enter the conversation at any time.
Benefits of improved patient referral workflow
WELL Referrals can reduce staff workload significantly. For example, if a clinic receives 100 referrals, its office staff would need to individually call each patient. With WELL Referrals, if only 50 patients are interested in scheduling an appointment, the staff only needs to respond to those patients, reducing workload by 50 percent.
Our messages are going to get delivered — they’re never waylaid by a patient not picking up the phone or being on vacation. Even when calls are missed, we will reach out multiple times to ensure a patient receives the message. The improved consistency makes your patient referral workflow even more effective.
Appointment reminders have the potential to reduce no-shows by more than 50 percent. For example, Mountain View Medical Center in Oregon reduced no-shows by 54 percent after implementing WELL. St Charles Orthopaedic in Missouri saw similar results in just 4 months after implementation.
Automating the initial outreach allows your staff to focus on the most critical patients who require scheduling and quickly close the referrals that don’t require followup. WELL Referrals helps stop referral leakage and frees up your providers and staff to do what they do best — care for patients. ♥
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Pamela Ellgen is WELL’s Health Editor. She began her career in community journalism and is the author of more than a dozen published books. She is a graduate of Washington State University.