Communicating with healthcare providers
General physicians play an important role in comanaging optometric conditions. However, the collaboration between optometrists and general physicians is historically weak with only a small fraction of in-network physicians referring patients to optometrists for ocular comanagement.
To counter this, Dr. Whitley recommended that optometrists take an active approach to provider communication.
“Go meet, personally visit with, the primary-care doctor, the medical director, whoever runs the clinic, the office manager, and let them know the services that we provide,” he says. “If you want referrals for these types of conditions, you need to go make that introduction.”
Although referrals offer opportunities for improved patient care, expectations must be set before referrals occur. Dr. Whitley says to get to know clinicians in the area to help establish a referral network, and setting clear expectations on referral boundaries with providers.
Setting these limits early guarantees that both the referring OD and the referred provider understand what is expected of them.
“If [physicians] are sending patients all over the place and not telling you, that’s an issue. Continuous communication is the key to successful co
-management,” says Dr. Whitley.
Strategies for addressing patient wait times
Another barrier to patient referrals is patients’ wait times when they visit multiple providers for treatment.
To manage this, providers should inform patients in advance
d of the increased wait times they’ll experience. Keeping patients in the loop can help mitigate the frustration they may feel from long wait times at specialty clinics.
Dr. Whitley recommends that providers provide this feedback to each other in the interest of keeping patients happy.
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“I’ll have ODs call me out,” he says. “They’ll say, ‘Walt, what’s wrong with your wait times? You guys are doing something over there that is getting longer and longer,’” he says.
Avoid losing patients during specialist referrals
When patients are sent to other clinics for care, they often find that they can receive comprehensive health management at their new facility—creating challenges for the referring OD.
Dr. Whitley says that the question of what should happen with each patient must be established before the referral process begins.
An exception may be patients being seen for chronic retinal concerns that require regular treatments at a specialty clinic. Dr. Whitley says that even in these situations, documentation for the referring OD should always be a priority.
“One of the things they should always do is make sure that they’re documenting—follow-up with your optometrist for your comprehensive eye exam,” he says.