Online referral system closes the gap for specialists and GPs
A new online referral service has been launched allowing GPs to easily refer patients to the most appropriate specialist while allowing specialists to accept or reject a referral with the click of a button.
MEDrefer has been designed by a Queensland company to streamline the referral process, particularly for GPs new to an area who don't have relationships with local specialists, and for young specialists starting out in their career.
Mr Sullivan said the idea for MEDrefer came from a GP friend who was frustrated that he couldn't keep track of whether a referral had been accepted or not and often had to chase up the patient, and who also had a drawer full of letters from newly established specialists looking for patients.
“Young specialists need to get the word out and established specialists often have full books and don't want to receive any more referrals,” he said. “We thought this was an opportunity and we looked around the world and there is nobody who does what we do. There are lots of people doing online booking for GPs, but there wasn't anyone doing anything online for specialists.”
MEDrefer is a free service for GPs, who are able to search a directory of consultants by their sub-specialties, location, availability and other factors like gender or languages spoken. They can book an appointment for the patient then and there, or provide the patient with a referral certificate listing five recommended specialists from which the patient can choose the most appropriate for their schedule and location.
The referral certificate has a code number printed on it, so when the patient contacts the specialist's rooms, the receptionist or practice manager can access the referral and decide whether to accept it or not.
The receptionist accepts the referral by putting the unique number into the MEDrefer website, and it becomes addressed to them specifically and is no longer available to the other recommended specialists. MEDrefer then notifies the GP that the specialist has accepted the referral, along with the preferred method that the patient's medical details relevant to the referral can be transmitted.
If the specialist's medical software doesn't do patient reminders, MEDrefer can send an email or SMS reminder prior to the appointment. The system also sends an email to the specialist to see if the patient attended. If they did not, the GP is automatically notified so they can follow up with the patient.
This is becoming increasingly important for duty of care reasons, Mr Sullivan said. “Duty of care is becoming a huge issue in that doctors are saying if they give someone a referral, they have no way of knowing if they attended or a systematic way of following up that referral.
“GPs are now being sued because patients haven't taken them seriously enough and not followed up on a referral. It is the practice managers who have told us they have to have this, because the duty of care is now in the hands of the practice manager to follow up the referrals and make sure people are attending.”
For specialists, the service allows them to display their specific details and availability, along with whether they provide telehealth services and the like. If they use Genie, the system will automatically extract their schedule details and availability, meaning the receptionist doesn't have to update two different systems.
MEDrefer also allows specialists to inform the GP of no-shows with the click of a button, automatically informs the GP if a referral has been accepted, and will transmit the resulting report back to the GP for free.
Mr Sullivan and his team have created a directory of about 8000 medical specialists and 15,000 allied health professionals from publicly available information, but it does require those practitioners to register if they want to receive referrals.
The service costs $100 for 24 tokens or referrals. “A GP can refer to any one of the specialists listed, but if they are not on our registered list we are automatically advised, and we get onto them and say Dr Jones is potentially going to send you a patient and you'll need to register to accept the referral,” Mr Sullivan said. “We let them have the first three free anyway.
“As soon as a young specialist puts up their shingle, they can start their business by hitting the ground running rather than have to slowly build it up. They don't have to advertise – MEDrefer allows them to say they are now available.”
Specialists have the right to review a referral before they accept it, but by allowing them to upload a full profile, it is more likely the referral will be appropriate, he said.
“We also have a public search function so if the patient's GP doesn't know a specialist – and this is common in the bush, because a lot of the GPs are new and they have no idea who is out there – the patient can do a search and find out how many there are and where they are.
“They can't book appointments or anything but they can say there are five specialists in Rockhampton for instance and then the GP does the search to find out who they are. That allows the patients to encourage the GP to search for them.”
The whole service is run online, so if a doctor is not using Best Practice or Genie, they can just go through the website. It is accessible on all different platforms, including desktop, tablet, iPad and smartphone. “The only difference is that you need to cut and paste the patient's details, but that's pretty easy to do,” Mr Sullivan said.
MEDrefer will be officially launched by the Queensland Health Minister at Parliament House in Brisbane next month, but is available now.
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