How a pizza party can help your ASC boost referrals: 4Qs with expert Lori Brenner

Lori Brenner designed the Physicianology platform for Tea Leaves Health, a Welltok Company, to help healthcare executives and physician relations professionals strategically grow their organizations.

Ms. Brenner, vice president of Physicianology, helped found Tea Leaves Health more than five years ago with her extensive experience on the business of healthcare.

Ms. Brenner shared her insights on the importance of referrals and documentation with Becker's ASC Review:

Question: What are some ways ASCs/specialty practices can increase referrals?

Lori Brenner: There are several ways to increase referrals. First, implement a call center to capture where the referral is coming from at the time of the appointment; this will help organizations keep track of that and monitor the accuracy of those capture rates.

Organizations can also set up registration or admitting "challenges" to get staff motivated to capture those referrals. For example, capturing a certain percentage would result in a pizza party. They can also ensure the EMR is configured correctly to capture PCPs and referring physicians in the correct fields. For example, teams can ensure the field that flows to the transcription system to generate and share visit notes is where they are capturing the PCP and/or referring physician.

Q: Why is it important for primary care physician-to-specialist referrals to be documented? What can happen if they're not?

LB: It's important that PCP-to-specialist referrals be documented because they are critical components of the patient care continuum and often the starting place for a patient's healthcare journey. Even with growing consumerism in healthcare, patients still trust and look to their PCPs for referral recommendations. Once a PCP makes a referral, they often feel they have a relationship with that specialist or system they are referring to. PCPs often refer to specialists they trust to provide the most excellent care for their patients. If they are not captured at the time of the patient visit or admission, they are often left out of follow-up communication, not recognized for the important role they play and may not get the patient back for follow-up after discharge. This can damage the relationship and create mistrust.

Q: How can organizations improve the accuracy and documentation rate of PCP information?

LB: The effective capture of referring physician information requires diligence from both technology and the people behind it. For example, health systems that are most successful in capturing referring physician data have an integrated call center, where the referring physician is captured at the time of referral and documented in the EMR as such. Most EMRs have different fields for referring physician and PCP, and both may not be collected. Usually the fields that PCP or referring physician are documented in flow to other systems or processes, such as billing or transcription. It is imperative for hospitals and health systems to know what these fields are, and to ensure the data is captured in the correct place.

However, making these fields required does not always solve the problem of incomplete capture, because sometimes incorrect data is entered in these fields just to bypass the requirement. "Unknown" or "None" are often options for selection, which also may not be correct; this is where human intervention is key. Admitting and patient registration teams should be educated on the importance of capturing referring and PCP information. Monitoring those capture rates is key to keep a positive relationship with the organization.

Q: What is the overall importance of data when it comes to referrals?

LB: The average PCP generates $1.5 million in revenue annually for their affiliated hospitals (according to Merritt Hawkins Annual Satisfaction Survey). If a PCP becomes upset with lack of communication or recognition, they may choose to direct those referrals elsewhere. PCPs are in the communities where patients are. They know and care about their patients' wellbeing and want to be informed of sentinel events, and to feel as though they are an important part of the care continuum. If they are not kept in the loop about their patients' care after referral, it can create mistrust in the entire process.

Lori Brenner has been on the business side of healthcare her entire career and has a passion for both data and physician relations. Prior to her time at Tea Leaves, she held leadership positions with Marshfield, Wis.-based Ministry Health Care and Marshfield Clinic and worked with REACH3 (now Influence Health) and CMP Medica/Physicians Practice. Ms. Brenner received her bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

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