Referring physicians may misunderstand

The Access Center is the first contact that a referring physician has with the hospital, notes Bob Potter, RN, manager of access and preadmissions at University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. "The first impression is the lasting impression," he says. "Customer service is our sole reason for existing."

To improve relationships between patient access staff and referring physicians, Potter takes these steps:

• If a complaint involves a patient transfer, Potter reviews the transfer paperwork.

"We can frequently determine if an important piece of information was missed," says Potter. "I can also determine if something else in our transfer process was the source of the problem, such as bed availability or difficulty contacting the attending physician."

• He listens to recorded conversations.

These recordings have been used on multiple occasions to determine the validity of a complaint and can be used as a teaching tool on excellent customer service, says Potter.

"I once had an Access Center specialist who said 'I gave as good as I got,'" says Potter. "I informed her that wasn't exactly what we were trying to achieve in our efforts toward improved customer service."

• He consults involved staff and physicians.

If one of the hospital's physicians is the subject of a complaint, Potter tries to find out what could have been done differently from his or her perspective. "Many times they are apologetic and commit to doing a better job the next time," he says. "With some, however, it is always someone else's fault."

Fortunately, says Potter, there is support from senior physician leaders if there is a problem with a disruptive physician. "Our leaders are very committed to improved access and relationships with the referring community," he adds.

• He corrects misunderstandings about the role of patient access.

"Probably the most challenging part is a lack of understanding by others in the organization," says Potter. "Many misconceptions have been overcome in the past couple of years."

Frequent misunderstandings occur regarding the series of steps involved in completing a transfer, many of which are outside the control of the Access Center staff. "Insurance restrictions are particularly problematic," Potter says.

Members of the Access Center staff are well aware that if claims denials will result if transfers are not done correctly, he explains. Requirements can be very time-consuming, especially after hours, Potter says. "These requirements are not well understood outside the admissions area," he says. "It is perceived as foot-dragging and poor performance by members of the Access Center, which is not the case."

Each month, Potter discusses Access Center functions with the hospital's medical directors group, chaired by the vice president for medical affairs and vice president for patient services. "We discuss how to improve the hospital's reputation in the referring community," he says. "This is a great forum for improved communication and collegiality."


For more information on improving relationships with referring physicians, contact:

Bob Potter, RN, BSN, Manager of Access and Preadmissions, University of Colorado Hospital, Aurora. Phone: (720) 848-7873. Fax: (720) 848-5535. E-mail: