Referral Management Systems | Staying The Course With Physician-Centered Marketing
Patient-centered marketing is of course a priority for physical therapy clinics given direct access laws that permit PTs to evaluate patients without a referral. But restrictions on direct access remain. Also, physicians continue to play an important role in therapy care plans. Therefore, it would clearly be a good idea to continue to focus on increasing referrals from physicians through stronger, more robust relationships with referring providers. Working with physicians would also likely lead to more appropriate referrals who qualify for and would benefit from therapy intervention. Physician-centered marketing is likely to remain a key route to acquire more patients.
Need for a Referral Management System
Physical therapy practices, like any another business, are always looking to save time and make more money. Bringing structure and transparency to the referral management process from initial referral to conversion to patient is one such area of opportunity.
Some definitions just to kick things off. A referral is not a patient and does not become a patient until the individual has been evaluated. There are several steps between referral and patient that require significant efforts to ensure that the conversion actually happens. The conversion rate is the key measure of success that points to how many referrals result in arrived evaluations.
Let us consider some hypothetical numbers around the overall value of a patient case from evaluation to discharge. Let us assume $80 as the fee per visit, 10 visits per case, and an average of 50 referrals per week with an 80% conversion rate. That would be 40 evaluations per week but also 10 lost referrals per week. At $800 per case, that works out to $8,000 of lost weekly revenue and $416,000 of lost annual revenue.
An industry-standard referral management system would help document, monitor, and manage the process and help cultivate relationships between physicians, therapists, and patients. It is all about managing relationships, tracking activities, and measuring performance. Field reps would play an important role in maintaining and improving relationships with providers.
Increasing the Number of Referrals
So, the first item to check off would be getting more referrals. We could distil this down into a number of steps.
Linking all field rep activities to the referring provider’s profile would help keep things in perspective. There would provide an easy and accessible history of relationships with providers to track all activities and ensure Return on Investment for the field team.
Automated monitoring of relationships with referring providers would add value. We would compare the actual number of referrals received with the target number of referrals expected. Referring providers would display with a color coded health status that reflects how they are performing with regards to the target that was set.
Field reps would be able to quickly zoom in and identify providers to focus their time on. The system would roll up provider performance to the overall practice level. This would enable field reps to plan a strategy to reengage with providers from a practice standpoint.
Search and filter capabilities to quickly get to the exact data would increase speed and focus. For example, we may want to list all MDs in a particular specialty in a particular city with a referral rate below the target number. The filtered results and their addresses would in turn link to Google maps for planning the field rep’s route for the day.
For a field rep, documenting meetings with providers would be analogous to creating treatment notes for therapists. There is a need for a formal, manageable, and searchable format for provider encounter notes. Today, these notes could be housed in multiple spreadsheets at many clinics, disconnected from the EMR. Bringing it into the integrated referral management system would make encounter notes quickly actionable.
Staying connected with referring providers would also mean keeping them informed about their patients’ progress. A patient report card would help here. This would gather all relevant information from the patient case: Demographics, diagnosis info, authorizations, and scheduled appointments. Generating patient report cards for any provider, any facility, any field rep, or any date range would ease time and administrative burden.
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Raising the Rate of Conversion to Patients
The next priority would be to get more referrals to convert to patients.
This would be accomplished via pointers that are based on the age and level of activity of the referral. Referrals that are older than a certain value with no recent activity would be the highest priority for follow-up as these would be the ones most at risk of being lost. Clearly, the older the referral with no recent activity, the less likely they would be to convert to patients.
Converting referrals to patients is where the patient coordinator would step in by reaching out to the referral. Depending on the result of the activity, the system would move the referral through the appropriate automated workflow step.
Once confirmed, the referral management system would connect to the scheduler in the EMR to find the next available slot for evaluation. It would also send a fax to the referring provider notifying them of successful scheduling of the patient.
Scheduled referrals would move into the insurance verification step. It is possible that the patient may not be authorized for treatment or may have exhausted their benefits.
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The need would be to save time through automated workflows across the referral to patient stages with all data in one system. It should be possible to see at a glance which relationships need additional work and where your priorities should be. You would need to know what your conversion rate is and have the tools in place to address referrals that are falling through the cracks.
The referral management system would record sales and marketing activities, enter call logs, verify insurance benefits, fax referral confirmations, and measure performance. Status flags would communicate the level of needed urgency in verifying the referral’s benefits based on how soon their evaluation appointment is scheduled for.
Additional analytics with charts/graphs and reports that measure performance of field reps (number of referrals generated) and patient/benefit coordinators (number of referrals scheduled) would be helpful. By drilling down into the charts, it would be possible to get into the detailed underlying records.
Patient-centered marketing may be on everyone’s mind. However, physician-centered marketing based on a referral management system may still provide the best means to get qualified patients to walk in the door.