Referral Management: Tracking The Patient Journey - SMARTMD Referral Management: Tracking The Patient Journey - SMARTMD

Looking to grow your patient census in 2020, but limited on budget? The first question to answer is where to focus your efforts. Will growing your referral network have the biggest impact, or is it improving your scheduling process? The biggest mistake you can make is to assume you already know the answer. I mean you wouldn’t ever assume a patient’s diagnosis without first looking at test results or examining the patient, would you?

Introducing the Customer Journey
Patients don’t just get a referral and show up and admit. There are numerous steps they go through before becoming your patient. At each step in this journey, patients and caregivers either have a positive experience and move into the next stage or, they run into obstacles which impede progress. In the worst case, they will abandon all together and never become a patient.

To begin to improve your overall conversion rate and time from referral to admission, we need to identify which step has the greatest friction. Eliminating barriers at that step will have the largest impact. Once that step is tackled, then take on the step with the next highest abandonment/leakage rate. With a fixed budget, this is the most efficient and effective method of growing your business.

On an aside, what stands out for audiences seeing the customer journey for the first time is the sheer number of steps. The fact that the patient’s initial visit is not the end of intake, but just barely past the middle point, is a surprise for many. If nothing else, the customer journey illustrates the importance of tracking each referral through their entire experience with you as an organization. Doing so will significantly power your growth engine.

Finding the Primary Friction Point
So how do you find the step with greatest friction? Conversation rates through each step are a good indicator. Adding the meantime between steps adds another useful dimension. Basically, we’re measuring how many patients that enter a step make it to the other side, and how quickly.

Marketers and sales professionals have plotted this same information into a visual called the funnel chart. Simple and intuitive to understand, anyone in the organization can look at the funnel chart to see their impact on the customer’s journey. The data behind the funnel chart is equally simple and intuitive to understand. It just requires an effort to collect.

Download Funnel Chart MS Excel Template

To create the funnel chart, you can do it yourself with a spreadsheet and a disciplined process in place with your front desk staff. Attached is a template spreadsheet you can use, and here is the process:

  1. When you receive a new referral, add the patient’s name to the spreadsheet, record the referral date, and who referred them to your clinic. You should do this regardless of whether they schedule an appointment or are not taken under care.
  2. Once they schedule an appointment, add that DOS as the “initial visit DOS”, along with the time you did this in the “scheduled on” column.
  3. (Optional) If you confirm appointments via phone or text, populate the “confirmed on” date.
  4. Now, we need to track when and if they ever come in for their appointment. Whenever a patient checks in for a visit, look up their name in the spreadsheet and set the “first seen on” date. This may not be the same as the “initial visit DOS”, as they may have rescheduled.
  5. (Optional) If admission requires a consent from the patient, fill in the “admitted on” date only after they sign.
  6. Each time a patient is billed, add the amount to the “Billed” column. You’ll do this every month as the patient continues being seen. (NOTE: the formula in the spreadsheet assumes $300 is the threshold to consider a patient as a repeat customer. You may need to adjust that up or down per your practice)
  7. (Optional) If you have a process in place to ask patients for testimonials on Facebook, Healthgrades, or your own website, record the date when they write that testimonial. Asking for patients to write a testimonial is not required, but is highly recommended!
  8. Finally, once a month, you’ll want to determine if the referral is lost. Whether they weren’t interested on that first call, or they moved after scheduling an appointment and never showed, it is important to understand why referrals didn’t convert. Make sure to record that reason so you can adjust your marketing campaign to filter these leads out in the future.

That’s it! Collecting the data just requires a bit of extra effort, but it’s not complex.

Analyzing Your Data
At the end of every month, switch over to the “Charts” tab to see how your organization is doing. Use the summarized data in the pivot table to pull the data for the last 90 days. To view this data visually, simply copy/paste the totals into the small table above the funnel chart. The embedded chart will update to show you the conversion rates for each stage of the customer journey. The stage with the highest friction that you should be working on for next month.

To get an accurate measure of friction in the later stages, you’ll need to expand the timeframe filter to the last 180, or maybe even 365 days. This makes sense since customer retention can only be measured after the patient’s second visit. For some specialties, that may only be once a year. For others, it may be as little as a week.

On a final note, closely consider the mean time between events. Your business may heavily depend on getting patients admitted as soon as possible – time is money. If that’s the case, the mean time between each stage may be even more important than the conversion rate.

Next Steps
If you’re convinced of the approach, but don’t want to manually collect this data, then you should consider purchasing a referral / intake management app. They are designed to collect this data as a matter of course – meaning, as you manage your referrals through the app, the data is automatically being recorded and the charts produced. For guidelines on how to pick a referral management app appropriate for your organization, see our previous article on the topic: 8 Important Features of a Medical Referral Management Solution.