CMS 50 V2 – Closing the referral loop: receipt of specialist report

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"Problems in the outpatient referral and consultation process have been documented, including lack of timeliness of information and inadequate provision of information between the specialist and the requesting physician (Gandhi, 2000; Forrest, 2000; Stille, 2005). In a study of physician satisfaction with the outpatient referral process, Gandhi et al. (2000) found that 68% of specialists reported receiving no information from the primary care provider prior to referral visits, and 25% of primary care providers had still not received any information from specialists 4 weeks after referral visits. In another study of 963 referrals (Forrest, 2000), pediatricians scheduled appointments with specialists for only 39% and sent patient information to the specialists in only 51% of the time.

In a 2006 report to Congress, MedPAC found that care coordination programs improved quality of care for patients, reduced hospitalizations, and improved adherence to evidence-based care guidelines, especially among patients with diabetes and CHD. Associations with cost-savings were less clear; this was attributed to how well the intervention group was chosen and defined, as well as the intervention put in place. Additionally, cost-savings were usually calculated in the short-term, while some argue that the greatest cost-savings accrue over time (MedPAC, 2006).

Improved mechanisms for information exchange could facilitate communication between providers, whether for time-limited referrals or consultations, on-going co-management, or during care transitions. For example, a study by Branger et al. (1999) found that an electronic communication network that linked the computer-based patient records of physicians who had shared care of patients with diabetes significantly increased frequency of communications between physicians and availability of important clinical data. There was a 3-fold increase in the likelihood that the specialist provided written communication of results if the primary care physician scheduled appointments and sent patient information to the specialist (Forrest, 2000).

Care coordination is a focal point in the current health care reform and our nation's ambulatory health information technology (HIT) framework. The National Priorities Partnership recently highlighted care coordination as one of the most critical areas for development of quality measurement and improvement (NPP, 2008)."


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