In the world of dentistry and oral health, referrals are king. Incoming referrals are generally the lifeblood of a practice, whether they come through patients, other dental offices, or other oral health practices such as orthodontists or oral surgeons. Outgoing referrals need to be handled smoothly and efficiently to maintain patient care and satisfaction. In short, effective referral management is critical for both patient care and a practice’s bottom line.
But in the modern digital economy, effective management of dental referrals can be difficult. While the world around them has modernized, many practices are still stuck in the old-school world of phone-and-fax. This is why modern digital technology can be critical for practices seeking better solutions for referral management.
Here at Fort Worth Oral Surgery (FWOS), we are keenly aware of the critical nature of referral management, as we are almost a completely referral-based practice that does not rely on direct marketing to the public. Accordingly, the dentists and physicians who refer patients to FWOS need to be satisfied so they will continue being referral sources. Our patients whom we refer to other practices need continuity of care and peace of mind. Dropping the ball on either end of the referral process is simply not an option.
The Challenges of Managing Dental Referrals
While prioritizing referral management sounds like a simple proposition, execution can be difficult. This is especially true for a high-volume practice that relies on low-tech processes, such as mail, phone, fax, and written forms. These processes are slow and cumbersome, resulting in inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and huge amounts of time and energy wasted on clarification and follow-ups.
To see how inadequate these traditional methods are, consider one common tool for sending and receiving referrals, the fax machine. It could send a busy signal, allowing nothing to come through. The faxes that make it through often have quality issues, requiring follow-up phone calls to rectify the problems. All of this results in frustration and time wasted for staff and the entire office.
Another referral challenge is transmission of documents that cannot be sent via fax, such as X-rays or photos. Typical solutions involve either mailing the documents or having the patient bring them to the appointment. Unfortunately, mail delivery is slow, and the practice cannot see the patient until those documents are received and reviewed. Sending the documents with the patient needlessly adds to the patient’s responsibilities and truncates the dentist’s or physician’s time to review the documents before the consultation.
Then there are the myriad administrative issues that come up with referrals, such as scheduling and rescheduling appointments, patient appointment reminders, sending the patient education materials, and post-appointment follow-ups with referring offices, all of which are time consuming and burdensome for staff.
At FWOS, we experienced all of these challenges, which is why we went looking for a solution.
The Role of Digital Technology in Referral Management
Software and digital platforms can help practices clear many of these referral management hurdles. At FWOS, our solution was signing up with LeadingReach, a digital, automated, HIPAA-compliant platform for referral management. The platform allows us to manage both incoming and outgoing referrals, as well as patient text messages, appointment reminders, and patient education.
With the new system, we rapidly moved away from our reliance on the fax machine. When referrals come through, there are no busy signals and no unreadable information. We track our messages back and forth with the referring office, eliminating the need for follow-up phone calls. Now information can be clearly and quickly transmitted regarding the status of any particular referral.
Our new platform removed the difficulty of sending unfaxable documents. Instead of relying on mail or the patients themselves to send X-rays, photos, or panorexes, all of these documents can be sent through the platform, allowing FWOS to avoid referral bottlenecks and increase the immediacy of treatment, so referred patients are in our office sooner.
The other administrative issues surrounding referrals have also been smoothed over. Scheduling, appointment reminders, and sending education materials to patients can all be handled via referral management platforms. Simple communications to referring offices, such as confirming a patient was scheduled or their appointment completed, can be automated. Streamlining all these processes means that referrals are in our office faster, referring offices are satisfied, and our staff morale is higher.
Get Your Referral Network on Board with the Latest Tech
As helpful as digital referral management can be, no dental or oral health practice exists in a vacuum. Your referral sources, and the offices to which you send referrals, also need to move past the fax-and-phone model. In other words, your practice’s referral network must also get on board with the latest referral technology.
As the primary liaison with referring dental offices at FWOS, I have made it my personal mission to convert our referral network to new technology. After introducing offices to the network and additional training offers, I’ve successfully convinced even the most skeptical referral teams to update from archaic referral methods.
The technology is so accessible and user-friendly that FWOS converted our entire network and now exclusively sends and receives referrals digitally. With this incredible network we’ve established, FWOS has exponentially improved its administrative efficiencies, compressed the timelines of our patients’ oral care journeys, and improved overall quality of care and patient satisfaction by channeling them to the best clinicians in our network.
No matter what the current state is of a practice’s management of dental referrals, if modern digital technology is not being utilized, it likely should be. Seek out a digital solution that automates and streamlines these processes, while maintaining HIPAA compliance. The modern business world requires modern tech solutions, and your dental or oral health practice is no different.
Mr. Pendry is a practice growth consultant and the director of professional relations at Fort Worth Oral Surgery, an oral and maxillofacial surgery practice based in Fort Worth, Texas. He received his bachelor of business administration and management degree from Georgia Southern University and a certification in sales and marketing from IBM Sales School. He has served as the director of professional relations at Fort Worth Oral Surgery since 2013.