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Bridging the Care Gap: Using Web Technology for Patient Referrals

Jane Metzger and Walt Zywiak, CSC

This report describes eight software systems that allow health care providers to process patient referrals using web-based tools rather than the error-prone use of paper forms, telephone calls, and faxes. Four case studies are included.

Arranging referrals for specialty or follow-up care typically involves a disjointed sequence of phone calls, faxes, and slips of paper. Besides being inefficient, this system frequently results in unsuccessful, duplicate, and inappropriate referrals, which can have serious health consequences for patients.

Some providers, particularly public health systems and others working in the safety net, are now turning to advanced electronic solutions to modernize and improve the referral process. These web applications — some of them homegrown — help to standardize the screening and decisionmaking steps of a patient referral, improve tracking and communication, and strengthen data collection.

This 2008 report examines eight web-based referral systems — including five that are commercially available. The report explores common functions of the new software applications, outlines considerations for those interested in adopting such systems, and highlights providers' successes and challenges in using them. Four case studies are also included.