Referrals and the ND


posted by Kathy Everitt on Thursday, January 18, 2018

As the ND, you are responsible for ensuring referrals are completed in a timely manner and meet the needs of your patients. You can do this by establishing relationships with other providers, setting expectations for both the patient and the specialist, and assisting your patients through the referral process.

Referrals, whether they are from a primary provider (first-party referral) or a secondary referral (specialist-to-specialist referral), require more than just a script to seek further treatment from another provider.

Referrals also require more effort than sending along a letter or fax to the subsequent treater with basic information about the patient and the reason for the referral. They are a process that requires communication and tracking. How and what information is communicated and tracked is vital when it comes to patient safety and patient compliance.

Claims involving referrals are on the rise. According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), more than 100 million referrals are requested annually in the U.S. With only half being completed, it is best to cover your bases when you refer a patient. Claims related to referrals are usually due to a missed or delay in diagnosis.

The IHI recently released “A Guide to Safer Ambulatory Referrals in the EHR Era.” The principals can be applied to all lines of healthcare. Although the report was for practices using EHRs, the information also applies to offices using paper charts. 

The IHI expert panel identified what is needed to complete a “closed loop” referral process. The following are the IHI’s potential barriers and suggestions for overcoming those obstacles:

1. The primary provider orders a referral

  • Defensive Strategy: Make sure you have a list of appropriate specialists; know what they need prior to their evaluation (including clinical and insurance information)

2. The primary provider communicates the referral to the specialist

Defensive Strategy: Include urgency status, differential diagnosis, concerns and desired input from the consultant (expectations)

3. The referral is reviewed and authorized by insurance

Defensive Strategy: Primary provider confirms insurance authorization/specialist in patient’s network

4. The appointment is scheduled and tracked

Defensive Strategy: Address who schedules the appointment (PCP, Specialists or Patient); patient engagement and accountability for follow up

5. The consult occurs

Defensive Strategy: Primary provider tracks and maintains contact with specialists regarding no shows

6. The specialist communicates the plan to the patient

Defensive Strategy: Specialist makes sure patient understands the care plan

7. The specialist communicates the plan to the primary provider

Defensive Strategy: Make sure communication to the patient is same message communicated to referring provider

8. The primary provider acknowledges receipt of the plan

Defensive Strategy: Acknowledge receipt of information from the specialist

9. The primary provider communicates the plan to the patient/family

Defensive Strategy: Confirm understanding of plan by patient/family; develop care coordination between the primary provider and the specialist

To make this process less time consuming, the American College of Physicians has developed a form which can assist you making sure you are covering these steps.

If you elect to use a checklist such as this one referenced, keep a copy of the form in your policies and procedures manual. Date the form as to when you start using it. When it is used for a referral, keep a copy in the patient’s chart so you have documentation that you (1) made the referral; (2) provided appropriate and essential information needed for the consultation; (3) set the expectations for the consultant.

Questions about risks related to the referral process? Contact us by calling our Claims Advice Hotline at 800-242-4052.

  1. office and staff
  2. patients
  3. referrals
  4. risk management

About The Author

Kathy Everitt

Kathy brings with her more than 30 years of professional liability experience to NCMIC, encompassing underwriting, sales management, as well as risk management consultation services for healthcare professionals. She has earned her CPHRM designation and, as a licensed property/casualty agent, Kath ... read more

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