How to use Smart Referral Networks in Your Medical Practice

The old ways of medical referral networking – word of mouth and business cards – are giving way to AI-enhanced network referral systems. Here’s how you can set your new practice up to enhance patient outcomes while building a professional network you can trust.

Effective Patient Referrals are Key to Growing Your Practice

One early yet important lesson you learn as a new primary care medical practitioner is, “You can’t go it alone.” Think of your influence on your patient’s healthcare journey using the “tip of the iceberg” analogy. Only 12 percent of an iceberg is above water, the rest you don’t see. Likewise, as a primary care physician, you will generate only about five percent of healthcare spending connected with your patients’ care. Services like medical testing, imagery, radiology, surgeries, hospitalizations, and more make up the rest.

The modern medical practice relies more than ever on coordinating care with doctors and healthcare professionals who specialize and with other medical specialists. Every year more than 100 million patient visits result in a specialist referral. Your ability to effectively coordinate with these specialists is directly proportional to how satisfactory your patients’ care outcomes are.

Ineffective Referral Networking Hurts Your Patients, and Your Practice…

Given how important and how prevalent referrals are, it’s tempting to think that doctors and healthcare professionals are using referral networking or online referral systems efficiently. But the numbers don’t back that up:

  • Of those 100 million or more specialist referrals mentioned above, only around half lead to a completed medical appointment.
  • Only about one-third of specialist practices confirm receiving the patient histories of those referred to them.
  • Primary care providers tend to over-rely on a handful of trusted specialists. Seven in 10 say they refer to the same specialists regardless of their specialty or availability, and only four in 10 say they are always confident their referral was appropriate for the patient.

The bottom line is, only about one-quarter of medical referrals take place as the referring physician intended. And about one-quarter of medical errors result from missed referrals or other breakdowns in the referral process. Much room for improvement exists for medical referral  practices and referral processes.

Intelligent Referral Networking Improves Care Quality and Your Profitability

Making better referrals means better patient referral experiences, better specialist care, and reduced risk of out-of-network referral leaks – by one estimate, these can decrease by up to 20 percent within six months of adopting an efficient referral process.

An intelligent referral program helps patients by encouraging them to stick with their treatment plans. It also promotes your primary care practice and attracts new patients to you and the specialists you refer to. The question is, what goes into an intelligent referral program, and how do you get it started, especially if you are one of the 40 percent of primary care physicians who do not have access to a referral provider directory through your healthcare system? That is what we will consider next.

How to Get Started with Intelligent Referral Networking

Intelligent referral networking does not have a single definition, and healthcare providers implement it in different ways. Two of the most effective things you can do are to adopt the latest technology into your referral network and to communicate better with patients and referral specialist providers.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements to see how they work.

Adopt the Latest Technology into Your Referral Network

Online medical professional referral networks help you make – and allow you to receive – more patient referrals while improving their effectiveness. The MedMatch Network, for example, integrates the latest technology to optimize your referral network:

  • Artificial intelligence. The MedMatch difference is how our network technology uses machine learning to automate your referral management process, optimize use of available resources, and  streamline the process. This eliminates the need for paper-based patient record transfers and tracking methods, reduces the risk of mistakes, and enables you to make more referrals with more confidence.
  • Interoperability. Your online referral network needs to stay up with the latest federal requirements for medical software interoperability. MedMatch software APIs are current with HL7 FHIR Release 4.0.1, and MedMatch compiles with all CMS and ONC interoperability rules.
  • Security. One of the reasons why many doctors stick with fax machines and paper-based referrals is because of security concerns. The MedMatch Network is fully HIPAA and HITECH Act compliant, giving you and your patients the best available privacy for their EHRs and other sensitive health information.

Building technology into your online referrals means your staff members spend less time doing manual processes like faxing, follow-up phone calls, and patient follow-ups. It eliminates the need to coordinate the secure physical transfer of patient records on paper. This means that everyone in your organization can spend more time concentrating on serving more patients and serving them better.

Communicating Better with Patients and Referral Specialist Providers

Communication and coordination among providers and patients have always been weak points of referral networking until now. For example, even though three-quarters of doctors surveyed know the importance of keeping referral patients in-network, about half say it is hard to know whether a referral doctor is in their network, and four-fifths of them admit to referring patients out of network.

There is no reason to put up with any of these drawbacks anymore with the advent of online referral networks like the one you will find on the  MedMatch Network.

The key advantage of an online referral network is that it makes communications and feedback more practical than current fax and paper-based referrals. Improved communications among all the parties involved in the referral – the referring doctor, the receiver of the referral, and the patient – offers multiple advantages:

  • Reducing out-of-network referrals by up to one-third compared to traditional referral methods.
  • Making possible more targeted referrals through access to a broad online network of physicians and specialists in multiple practice areas.
  • Providing doctors and specialists who receive referrals with real-time access to patient health information at the time of referral and giving the referring physicians faster access to the results of those specialist visits.
  • Reduce legal liability risks by encouraging patients to complete their referral appointments and to provide feedback on their treatment.
  • Identify optimal referral partners. The MedMatch Network allows patients and physicians to give feedback and quality of care ratings, giving you and them more confidence in your referral choices.
  • Encourage more patients to make their referral appointments by sharing more information with them, automating patient appointment reminders, and enabling them to know what to expect from their referrals.

Get Started with Intelligent Referral Networking Today

Using an intelligent online referral network is possibly the most effective thing a new practice can do to make better referrals and to reduce the drawbacks of the way referrals have been done up to now.

The MedMatch Network makes online referral networking easy and affordable for practices of any size and degree of experience including mental health provider networks. Our peer-reviewed ratings for physicians help you to confidently build your professional network faster than was ever possible before and to make better-targeted referrals.

If you are ready to get started building your own MedMatch referral network, visit our homepage to see our plans for family practice, primary care, and specialist physicians and choose the one that is best for you.

Still have questions about how MedMatch Network can help your referral practice? Contact us through our online portal and we will answer them for you.

Dr. Amos Dare

Dr. Amos Dare

Dr. Amos Dare is the Founder and CEO of MedMatch Network, Inc. Dr. Dare is a Yale school of Medicine trained, physician and neurosurgeon with over 22 years experience in the practice of private and academic medicine.