Communication Key to ‘Healthy Handoffs’ in Medical Neighborhood

Thursday, June 26th, 2014
This post was written by Cheryl Miller

Consultations and referrals have long been a source of frustration for physicians and specialists; physicians refer patients to specialists without the necessary tests or pre-work, or a physician refers a patient to a specialist, but hears nothing back from that specialist, says Robert Krebbs, director of payment innovation at WellPoint, Inc. There needs to be better, effective communication between the two, and established processes for consultations and referrals between physicians and specialists to ensure “healthy handoffs,” a key component of care coordination.

Care coordination is important to us and is the main pillar of our Patient-Centered Specialty Care program. What we mean by that is that care coordination is about effective communication. Practices need to establish communication timeliness expectations, agree on core default patient information regardless of the condition, and make sure the information flows back and forth between the two practices that are exchanging the patient or experiencing the care transition for that patient.

We actually refer to those as ‘healthy handoffs.’ That’s what we’re shooting for, care exchanges in which the patient moves between practices in a healthy fashion and everything moves back and forth between the practices in an ideal and efficient manner. It’s about establishing data exchange; that is, how is the information going to get back and forth between two practices?

Every practice is different. Every practice has different capabilities in terms of data exchange. We’re looking for practices to make sure that they understand each other’s capabilities so there are no assumptions to cause missed care opportunities for patients.

It’s about establishing processes for requests in consultations and referrals in the first place and expectations around interactions related to those referrals. It’s about agreeing on the types of consultations that are available: face to face, phone, e-mail from patient to provider. It’s making sure that the entire landscape of consult or referral is clear for both parties.

Excerpted from Care Compacts in the Medical Neighborhood: Transforming PCP-Specialist Care Coordination.

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