By Christina Ott, CPM’s VP of Physician Relations
The Archives of Internal Medicine released a study this month showing that communication of referral information is not always effective between primary care physicians and specialists. (Becker’s Hospital Review also covers the story here.)
Through my work in physician relations I hear these kinds of concerns all the time. In healthcare, we all work to strengthen communication among physicians and specialists (and hospitals and physicians). One of the key opportunities for improvement is to identify the best ways to help both parties improve coordination of care for their patients.
An EMR is certainly a step in the right direction, but there’s still a need for interpersonal communication. As noted in the study, there is an increasing perception from specialists that they are not receiving information from PCPs. About 69.3% of PCPs reported that they “always” or “most of the time” sent notification of a patient’s history and reason for consultation to specialists, but only 34.8% of specialists said that they “always” or “most of the time” received that notification. Likewise, PCPs are concerned that if they send their patients to a specialist, they don’t always get them back.
It’s time for a renewed focus on strategies to improve communication between physicians and specialists. One such method is a peer-to-peer physician phone line. The PCP would need to commit to placing calls to the specialist regarding referred patients, and the specialist would need to commit to answering the call from a PCP. This tactic has been effective in increasing physician perceptions, trust and coordination of care for their patients.
As healthcare moves towards accountable care, the introduction of care teams can help the physician be prepared to consult the patient and provide the best quality of care. Effective ways to do this include proactively ensuring quality reports are received from a referring physician and providing nurse support to monitor patients with chronic conditions.
There are a wealth of ways to start improving communication between physicians and specialists. Overall, it starts with new understanding of the needs of both parties and how working together can benefit both their own and their patients’ interests.
Image Credit: Kit Cowan