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Teach staff how to increase referrals
Nurses and other home care employees sometimes forget that physicians and other referral sources are important customers to an agency. And it takes more than simply providing high-quality home care services to keep referral sources satisfied.
Home care managers should make an effort to find out what their sources expect and then to teach staff how to please them. "You need to make sure [staff] really know and understand what it is that’s important to their referral sources," explains Carleton Townsend, vice president for quality measurement with Fazzi Associates in Northampton, MA. The management consultation firm does research training presentations focused on home health care and conducts referral source surveys.
Townsend recommends home care agencies directly ask referral sources what they want through a survey including these questions:
• Does the agency have the services the patient needs?
• Does the agency service the area in which the patient lives?
• Does the agency have a good reputation for quality care?
• How fast is the agency’s intake process?
• Does the agency respond immediately and see the patient right away?
• What kind of information do you get back from the agency?
• Does the agency give information in an efficient format that you can use immediately?
• What times of day do you prefer to take phone calls from a home care agency?
Cultivating new referral sources is important to home care agencies in these days of the interim payment system (IPS) and cost-cutting measures. "The whole impact of IPS is to reduce the number of visits agencies are making to patients, so if they’re going to be maintaining their service base, they need to increase their number of patients and tap into referral sources they haven’t worked with before," Townsend explains.
He suggests agencies market their services to referral sources by having a representative visit the potential referral source at the office to discuss the agency and its services. But first make sure your agency representative knows the appropriate person to contact in your area physician groups, skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and assisted-living centers.
"You could be direct and say, There’s one of your patients, who has had services with us before, who has called about home care services, and we’d like to know if you’d like to refer that patient to us,’" he says.
The next step is to provide referral sources with excellent customer service, because this may be the only way an agency can distinguish itself from the pack. An agency can obtain an edge in speed of responsiveness and communications, two areas in which staff need training.
"As soon as the agency gets that call, they should respond immediately," Townsend says. "Often . . . when the hospital discharge planner or physician is making a referral, the agency says, I’ll call you back once I make sure everything is ready,’ and then the referral source will go to another agency."
Instead, the home care employee who receives that referral should take it immediately and make sure a nurse will see that patient without delay.
Also, it’s important to referral sources that an agency is consistent in how it responds to referrals. Sources want to know that if an agency says it’s going to do something, it will follow through.
Good communication skills are equally critical to pleasing referral sources. Townsend has found that home care agencies that are not perceived as having good communication skills often are rated lower by referral sources.
It’s important to find out which type of communication a particular referral source prefers. Some may be most comfortable with telephone calls, while others may prefer faxed messages or written communication. Besides surveying each source, agencies could discover such preferences by asking staff what they know about referral sources. A nurse may know that a particular physician only likes to receive telephone calls before 9 a.m., for instance, or that a hospital discharge manager prefers faxed communication.
"A good way to get started is by telling staff, Here are the people we deal with, so tell us what you’ve learned about them in terms of their preferences for communications and what works and doesn’t work for this referral source,’" he adds.
Once the research is complete, a list of tips for satisfying referral sources may be written to help deal with them more successfully.