Consider this; you're a clinician who has to refer a patient to a specialist. You've done the tests that you think are necessary and you now need a specialist involved. You refer the patient to a specialist but you hear nothing back. A few weeks go by and you receive a phone call stating that your patient has been hospitalized due to an episode.Could this have been avoided? Maybe, maybe not but you'll never know because communications failed.

Unfortunately, this type of situation happens more often than it should. Referrals are critical for patient care yet one that is probably the most mismanaged. The majority of referrals today are still paper-based, resulting in a slow and inefficient referral process. The problem with this is that there is no standardization, no best practices; the content is often lost in translation and illegible; there's little to no clinical information included and there are often transcription errors. The consequences of such a system include many wasted visits, duplication of efforts and tests, and increases in operational costs and labour. By and large, it's a drain on resources.

Integrating information technology for referrals can dramatically increase efficiency. If integrated successfully, your eReferral solution will not only benefit your organizational budget, but also your organizations' reputation and, more importantly, your patients' well-being. Wait times will be reduced significantly which, in turn, will increase your capacity of referrals, decrease administrative costs and the duplication of tests, and create better clinical workflow.

Make sure that the platform you choose is compatible with external systems in order to connect the whole journey of patient care. Relying solely on demonstrations to make your decision, and custom building a solution that fits your healthcare facility will prove to be ineffective as there's no conformity of standards, nor will it necessarily connect to other health networks.

On the patient side, the benefits could surmount to saving lives. Better workflow at the clinical level means shorter patient wait times and improved communication between patients, their specialists and the referring physicians. It also provides healthcare providers with direct access to the results ensuring patient safety, and in the event of an episode, better patient care due to centralized access to data and transparency.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) — having implemented an integrated eReferral solution throughout 17 regions — has recently had tremendous success in reducing their overall wait time; in some cases by as much as 90 per cent. In turn, this has decreased the number of patient episodes not only saving about $7000 per emergency visit but, most importantly, helping to save patient lives.