The Boca Grande Health Clinic has more than 6,500 patient visits a year, and a number of those visits lead to a referral to a specialist. Specialty provider referrals are used to get expert help with the diagnosis or treatment of a patient’s medical condition. You may be referred to a specialist for conditions such as cancer, heart disease, serious infections, and more.
It’s no secret that getting an appointment with a specialty provider can take a long time. Why is this? Simple – supply and demand. The number of doctors leaving the medical field is increasing without enough new physicians to replace them. This is happening at the same time demand is increasing, especially as people who delayed care during the pandemic are now ready to see a doctor – and have greater medical needs.
Improving the experience
Given this challenge, the Boca Grande Health Clinic has set a goal to improve the referral process for our patients. We have implemented an innovative approach to managing referrals and have assigned a dedicated team member, long-time clinic employee Laquanda Dixon, to coordinate, monitor and “close the loop” on each referral.
What does that mean? Often, our physicians have direct conversations or consults with specialists as part of the referral process, but it is Laquanda who formally initiates a referral by sending detailed medical background to the specialist. This typically includes your relevant medical records and the reason for the referral. Specialty providers now require more diagnostic results to help aid in the scheduling of patients. Our job at the Clinic is to provide as much necessary information for the referral to stay on the fastest track to the specialty provider. This requires a lot of coordination – and many phone calls. Since the season began in October, Laquanda’s call log is in the hundreds.
Communication is key
Next, as a “care navigator,” Laquanda works to stay in constant communication with everyone involved, the patient and the specialty referral office confirming the specialty referral office received the referral packet, following up with the patient and specialist to ensure an appointment has been scheduled, and closing the loop of the referral. Closing the loop simply means ensuring the patient has been seen by the specialty provider in a timely manner, that the Clinic has received documentation of that specialty provider’s plan of care and interviewing the patient regarding their personal experience with the referral. We are not only tracking the quality of those specialty providers but the overall patient satisfaction with them.
This data is reported monthly to the Clinic’s Quality Committee, which works with the Clinic to ensure we provide high-quality patient care, patient safety, and patient satisfaction. The Clinic coordinated 1,185 referrals in 2023. The top two specialty referrals were made to Physical Therapy and Gastroenterology. From this ongoing data collection, we can track the timeliness of referrals and overall satisfaction of each referral source and report on the percentage of referrals completed.
What can patients do to help ensure a good referral experience?
- Make sure you understand why a referral is needed and be sure to ask your Clinic doctor questions and know what to expect.
- Appointments are hard to come by, so whenever possible, please accept the appointment day and time that is offered.
- Go to the appointment.
- Answer the phone when Laquanda calls to help with scheduling difficulties.
- Take the time to share your referral experience so we can continue to improve the process.
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