Make Patient Referrals Count: How a New Technology Platform Impacts Patient Care & Provider Economics

Around 65 percent of new patients for specialists start out as referrals, but for many network providers patient referral methods lead to 20-plus percent patient leakage rates. These leaks lead to poor patient care, lost revenue and increase costs for providers.

Fibroblast seeks to solve this problem with a new cloud-based referral management platform. The HIPAA-compliant platform maps referrals in real-time and gives patients more control over scheduling appointments with specialists. The ultimate goal is to increase access to care and promote population health.

Fibroblast CEO Scott Vold sees the platform as the "connective tissue" between patients and their various providers because when physicians make referrals, they can see whether their patients attended the appointment and any subsequent care. Practitioners can also follow referral patterns to see which physicians are referring within their network and where patients are falling out.

Andrew Albert, MD, Fibroblast CMO is a gastroenterologist in Chicago who uses the platform regularly with his patients. In the past, he has referred patients to see specialists about potentially life-threatening conditions, but without appropriate follow-up tools to encourage patients to make appointments with specialists, many waited until it was too late. However, when it's easy for patients to take the referral and make an appointment with specialists they are more likely to seek care immediately.

In addition to improving patient follow-up care, his staff is seeing greater efficiencies as a result of incorporating Fibroblast into their workflow. Now, staff members have an extra ½ day available to complete their tasks because they aren't spending as much time tracking referrals.

"It's a great comfort to physicians to know every patient gets to the specialist's office," Dr. Albert says. "The patients like it because they have control over the scheduling and the platform sends reminders about their appointments. Surgeons like it because more patients are coming prepared to their appointments and staff like it because they spend less time tracking patients every day."

For patients, Fibroblast sends emails or text messages about upcoming appointments and information on what they need to bring to the appointment. Prepared patients will streamline the workflow and eliminate some of the office staff's work to corral patient information.

The return-on-investment for more streamlined patient referrals is significant. An academic colorectal surgeon saw a 29 percent increase in cancer surgery referrals within 90 days after incorporating the platform, which led to $495,000 in downstream revenue to the hospital. For a group of 40 multispecialty clinic physicians, the platform realized a 75 percent reduction in out-of-network patient leakage within 60 days and saved 85 work-hours as well as one full time employee salary.

Even smaller groups can benefit. Within 30 days, a four-physician orthopedic group saw 13 net-new surgery referrals which translated to $227,000 in downstream revenue to the hospital and $34,450 in revenue to the physicians.

In the transitioning fee-for-service to pay-for-performance world where there's an increased focus on lowering costs, every healthcare dollar counts and keeping referrals within the patient network — whether it's an accountable care organization, health system or physician network — can make a big difference going forward.

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