In today’s healthcare environment, it’s more important than ever to collaborate with others to ensure quality patient care.
Managing the care of patients is a complex business and oftentimes, physicians have to reach out to specialists, diagnostic testing firms, and even professionals in other fields to fully treat the condition of the patient. The question then becomes: “How do you maintain the quality of care when accountability for the patient changes hands?” In today’s healthcare environment, it’s more important than ever to collaborate with others to ensure quality patient care.
Here are three ways you can improve:
Enforce a patient hand-off protocol. When a patient is being handed off from one clinician to another, particularly across offices, it’s a key point of care where important information needs to be transferred about the patient. Leading hospitals have started to adopt these kinds of protocols to prevent errors and miscommunication. A popular approach is a technique known as SBAR. The acronym stands for Situation - Background - Assessment - Recommendation. Any time a patient is handed off between clinicians, this is an effective means of communicating critical information. “Situation” refers to the patient’s complaint, diagnosis, treatment plan, wants, and needs. “Background” includes vital measurements, mental and code status, list of active medications, and any lab results. “Assessment” is related to the current provider’s assessment of the situation. And “recommendation” is where the current physician identifies any pending diagnostic results, what needs to be done in the short term and any other recommendation for care. This technique is modeled after a communications technique used on nuclear submarines and facilitates the consistent, concise exchange of information about patients. Enforcing a technique like this among your staff will improve your patient hand-offs.
Referring physician follow-up. When you are passing a patient to another physician, be sure to reach out to that physician in advance to introduce the patient and follow-up while the patient is in their care to see how the patient is progressing. This is a task you could delegate to your staff and it serves two purposes. First, when your patient schedules with the specialist’s office, the staff there will be better equipped to greet the patient appropriately, “Hello, Mrs. Smith. Dr. Jones informed us you’d be looking to schedule time with us.” This improves the patients’ experience and reinforces your oversight of their care.
Warm up staff hand-offs. Internally within your own office, you can improve morale and the patient’s experience by warming up internal hand-offs. Large call centers introduced this approach several years ago and it’s effective at transferring the rapport and trust developed with a customer from one agent to another, just like it will from one staff member to another. In the call center environment, the first agent sets up a three-way call with a second representative and the customer and then introduces the customer to the second agent as they transfer the call. The same principle can be applied within your office by having your staff introduce one another to patients as the patient is being transferred from one area to another. When done correctly, it also improves office morale with staff recognizing each other’s strengths in front of patients. For example, a nurse is escorting a patient you’ve just seen from an exam room to the front desk to handle payment processing. When they arrive at the front desk, the nurse can “warm-up” the interaction by introducing the billing clerk. “Mrs. Smith, this is Wanda. She handles all our billing-related issues. She’s been with the practice for over 10 years now and patients love her because she does a great job handling any problems that pop up with your insurance company.” In a couple quick statements, the nurse has transferred the respect and rapport the patient has developed for the nurse to the administrative staff and paid a nice compliment to her co-worker.
By improving patient hand-offs you’ll improve the experiences your patient has with your office. The result will be higher patient retention rates and more patient referrals. Additionally, by improving your communication among outside practices you refer to, you’ll improve your professional stature in the community and gain incremental referrals from your peers.
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