Why Online Provider Search and Referral Management Programs Demand High-Quality Provider Information

By Thomas White | October 6, 2017

This Readers Write article originally appeared on HIStalk on June 28, 2017.

Healthcare systems, like any business, are competing for customers (patients) and referrals. In many respects, this competition has increased as patients are either forced to, or opt to, take more control over their own healthcare. The rise of consumerism is pressing healthcare systems to improve their online presence. Providers and healthcare systems must fully leverage web tools to grow their customer base by empowering patients with the high-quality information they need to make important healthcare decisions.

The Internet has made it much easier for patients to search beyond their local area for the most qualified providers who meet their needs, participate in their insurance plan, and offer the highest-quality services. As a result of this new paradigm, healthcare systems must prioritize the quality and ongoing maintenance of the provider data that feeds their website “Find A Doctor” search and referral tools. Simply put, a poor search experience is a major turn-off. Patients may go elsewhere, referrals (and revenue) are lost and reputation is damaged.

Patients and referring physicians alike expect to have the same online experience they would with Google and other search engines: instantly and easily find what they are looking for. Healthcare consumers satisfaction grows (and referrals are gained) when they can quickly find a doctor via a simple process that gives them useful information in easily understood terms. Accuracy is assumed.

Patients expect to see provider demographic, practice, insurance and contact information with a few keystrokes. That’s a given. And when they are presented with more data than expected — such as the provider’s availability, ratings, languages spoken, clinical focus, research interests, treatments provided, and travel directions – even better.

This search process can be further enhanced if the provider’s data includes videos and other multimedia information. Video profiles personalize information and instructional videos can simplify patient visits and improve customer satisfaction and engagement. It’s kind of like online dating and hoping for the perfect match. In both cases, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth a thousand pictures.

Patients are more likely to book an appointment if their search results direct them to a provider who meets their needs. High-quality data can seal the deal.

Online providers search tools are not just for patients. Physicians use them to identify the most appropriate in-network referral options for their patients. If the information from a referral management website is inaccurate or out of date, it can result in referral leakage, lost revenue and wasted time. If there’s a delay in the delivery of urgently-needed care, then patient well-being and satisfaction may suffer. This can hurt reimbursement, particularly in today’s value-based care environment that focuses on efficient delivery of care. These basic tenets should be supported by the information from any “Find A Doctor” search tool by ensuring patients see the most appropriate care giver the first time.

None of this, however, can be achieved without a holistic approach spanning the enterprise (clinical, financial, and marketing systems) to capture, manage, and share high quality provider information. A unified approach to provider data management is critical to meet the rising tide of healthcare consumerism and value-base care initiatives, never mind remaining competitive. Providing effective online provider search tools to healthcare consumers and providers is an investment that can quickly pay for itself through referrals that keep patients in network and improve overall satisfaction.

While online provider search tools are certainly not new, they must serve the demands and expectations of increasingly savvy and demanding online healthcare consumers and harried referring physicians trying to balance conflicting demands on their time and attention. Healthcare system leaders should assess how well their organization's online physician referral and outreach programs are meeting these end-user needs and determine relevant ROI measures to improve their effectiveness with an enterprise provider information management approach.