Unfortunately, “Can you help me read this?” are words all too often uttered within hospital and healthcare provider hallways, as physicians and clinicians attempt to read the notes scrawled on faxed referrals. Though the questionable writing abilities of healthcare providers is often at the butt of many jokes, the fact is that a provider’s ability to read a referral or patient record is vital to the care that a patient receives. The Canadian healthcare system is in critical need of an electronic referral (eReferral) solution so that we can not only improve workflow and deliver efficient care, but also help reduce human errors which affect quality of care.
In Canada we still deal with the archaic fax machine for most of the referral process, which impedes the effectiveness of our care. The lack of standardization and proper coordinated measures in our system result in missed vital information and repeated procedures. Perhaps most frustrating of all, is the 20 per cent rate of lost referrals due to technical and human error. Ultimately this creates situations where care providers are not armed with the patient information needed to properly diagnose or care for the patient. No care provider wants to stand before a patient and try to guess why they’re there, and yet many of us are all too familiar with this awkward experience.
Patients are no better off. With no information on hand, patients are often asked to take many of the same tests or x-rays they’ve already been tasked to do. Even in situations where the information is available, care providers are limited in their ability to follow-up with the patient and confirm that the patient received the diagnosis and care they deserve. In short – our current system is ineffective and a drain on our resources.
There are few who would disagree that we must begin embracing an eReferral solution; eReferrals improve workflow, increase patient safety, allow for more information sharing and helps to enable proper coordinated care. The standardization that eReferral brings means that no matter what, the intent of referral is properly communicated to the receiving clinician. This in turn reduces wait times, allows for better care and improves clinical outcomes.
Selecting the proper IT solution can be a daunting undertaking. If a solution isn’t installed correctly, lacks standardization or doesn’t integrate with any external system, you may find yourself no further ahead. A fully connected eReferral system will even allow patients to have more choice and make more informed decisions in their own care through a system that provides locations and availabilities of the specialized care provider.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) is a great example of successful implementation of a province-wide eReferral solution. The solution is available for use by over 46,000 authorized Netcare users across the province, serving a population of over 4 million people for closed-loop electronic referral transactions for: Lung Cancer, Breast Cancer and Hip & Knee Joint Replacement.
Users of the solution highlight immediate benefits to their practice/patient management: knowing a referral is complete upon submission (thus eliminating returned referrals and reducing time to treatment), knowing the referral is submitted and being able to visibly track the status of a referral at any time. All referring providers of care have the capability to reach out to specialists within the eReferral solution to request advice or further information, and have visibility to the status of the referral throughout its journey. This means that clinicians are better able to provide proper care in a timely and personal manner. Organizations implementing electronic referral management solutions typically show reduced wait times between 30 and 90 per cent, thus decreasing the number of patient episodes.
An effective eReferral solution doesn’t just reduce care and administration costs, it’s a vital tool in helping to save patient lives. As more time is spent using an eReferral system, a network is able to collect and analyze patient data – providing insight into health patterns. These patterns help shine light on an entire population’s health and allows providers to enact proper population health management plans. eReferral is not only a tool for effective care coordination between patients and care providers, it also presents us with the possibility of serving an entire population long-term.