Provider Strategy

Improving Referral Management

Technology can decrease errors, improve response time, ensure compliance and grow your pipeline.

Getting and retaining new business is a top challenge in HME. Referrals are an integral part of your revenue pipeline, and today’s referral turns into tomorrow’s repeat customer. But as important as they are, referrals often don’t get the strategic focus they deserve. Most companies handle referrals manually which can result in disorganization, delays, and added layers of inefficiency that eat into profitability.

A solid process management technology that leverages automation will alleviate most of the challenges with today’s referral management. Proper referral management will provide the visibility and control you need to ensure you maximize every new revenue opportunity.

Standardize referral handling across channels. HME providers get referrals from a variety of sources including rehab clinics, physicians, hospitals, referral coordinators or even a family member of the patient. The order can be communicated by phone, fax, email or walk in. In a homegrown manual referral handling process, this complicated web of incoming referrals can create issues of inconsistency, human error or, in some cases, completely overlooking a new referral. Workflow management software enables you to put all referrals into a single pipeline and apply a standard, consistent process for working them.

Centralize to improve visibility. A lot of providers rely on email for the handling of communication around referrals. This can be because the faxed order comes in electronically or because there was missing information that requires a back and forth communication. Email, a personal communication tool, just wasn’t designed for this type of work. It is essentially a manual process in disguise. Information can be easily lost or overlooked and there is rarely a backup plan for employee absences. Using a referral management technology solution means that all referrals are in one spot, and they can be monitored and tracked. If an employee is out of the office, another staff member can pick right up without missing a beat.

Auto-prioritize referrals. When work is completed within a business process management tool, deciding what to do next is determined by the business strategy, not by individual employee preferences. If new business is a top priority, the software will ensure that referrals are automatically sorted to the top of the to-do list. Depending on the software, you may even be able to prioritize depending on the type of product in demand, allowing you to focus on high margin orders first.

Never miss an opportunity with alerts. In some situations, referral sources distribute referrals to multiple providers at once and whoever is the first to respond will win the business. This means you can’t risk letting a new referral notification languish on your fax machine. Some systems, like Medforce’s Referral Management App, don’t even require you to manually push referrals into a central pipeline. When referrals are automatically pulled into a centralized and streamlined portal, it means you can leverage alerts that let you know real-time when a new opportunity has arrived. Even if you have to push your referrals into the software, you can still take advantage of escalations and alerts to keep you on track. If no one has responded to a referral in a set amount of time, an escalation can be triggered making sure nothing falls through the cracks. You gain new confidence that every opportunity is being grabbed without having to constantly monitor the system.

Analyze and improve your pipeline. When it comes to growing your business, knowledge is power. When you have all of your referrals going into a single pipeline regardless of source, you gain a tremendous ability to analyze them. A business process management tool will allow you to monitor how many referrals you’re getting in a month, whether that’s up or down from the previous month – and possibly even pinpoint why. If things are up, you want to keep doing what’s going well. If things are down, you have the opportunity to focus on where to make changes. The more information you have, the better decisions you will make regarding resource allocation and process and procedures. It can teach you a lot about your business you didn’t know before.

Decode employee performance. In addition to looking at your pipeline from the angle of referral volume and source, having a consistent and visible process will give you the ability to examine employee performance. It will allow you to understand where bottlenecks may exist, if there are differences in productivity, and provide insight into refinements that might need to happen. It could be as simple as a training issue or it could be about redesigning t the process or reassigning employees to tasks better suited to their skillsets.

Get the information right the first time. One complaint we hear a lot is that referral sources may leave out critical pieces of data. There are add-on elements to referral process management that can help guarantee you have everything you need from the start. A web portal where referral sources go directly to fill in a pre-determined form – not allowing submission until the mandatory fields are completed – or an electronic signature tool that prompts the referral source to confirm authorization are two ways you can dramatically cut down on the back and forth often associated with new referrals.

Eliminate duplication of effort with data extraction and interoperability. If your referral management software is enabled with OCR technology, you can populate your database by extracting vital information from typed faxes, scanned paperwork, or email attachments to populate your database.  Now, all of the information can reside in the same, consistent database as the information that comes in through web portals and electronic forms.  You can then push this information to the business applications you use most such as your patient files in your document management program or your billing software. This eliminates the need to re-type pertinent info, reducing errors and ensuring complete patient files.

Save time and improve margins. Working a referral is a cost of sales. The longer it takes, the lower your profitability. Whenever possible, allowing technology to do the work that doesn’t require a human brain (such as automated alerts, auto-filing, data capture, document-routing, pipeline tracking) will free up time and resources to focus on even more revenue-generating activities.  

More than anything, a solid technology solution will allow you to nurture your referral sources and grow your pipeline. Improving turnaround times, minimizing the need for back-and-forth communication, and setting clear expectations from the start will build your reputation as a responsive provider. And, knowing which referral sources are your best channels allows you to proactively cultivate those relationships and make adjustments that allow them to flourish. Adding automation technology to your referral management provides the tools and insight needed to improve your processes and secure more profitable business. 

About the Author

Ellen Sluder is the vice president of marketing for Medforce Technologies (, where she works to help providers understand how technology can help them uncover more time and money to power their missions.

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