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How Referral Turnaround Times in Outpatient Therapy Impact Your Organization

In a previous blog post, we talked about how poor insurance verification and authorization processes can cause patients to either not come to therapy or to go to a competitor who can facilitate those processes faster. We know that notwithstanding patient choice, outpatient therapy providers should be able to offer an evaluation appointment within 3 to 4 business days of the referral. This is referred to as the referral turnaround time, or the number of business days from you being informed of the referral to the actual first appointment.

Three Factors to Consider with Referral Turnaround Times

Perhaps your organization has this under control, but there are other factors that affect the timely evaluation and treatment of patients:

  • Capacity: Do you have the space and appropriate FTEs to meet the 3–4-day turnaround?
  • Scheduling: Are you optimizing the schedule?
  • Cancellations: Are you managing cancellations?

Without the appropriate space and FTE’s, getting a patient on the schedule for the evaluation and subsequent treatments can become prolonged. Another consequence that can occur is, in an effort to meet the demands of the pending patients, current patients get discharged prematurely.

In terms of scheduling, make sure that patients that are not currently attending therapy get purged from the schedule. Certainly, there are times when a patient doesn’t return and does not communicate their intent. But too often, there may be patients still on the schedule who we know will not be returning.

When it comes to managing cancellations, make sure that you have a process to try to fill a cancellation with a new patient who is waiting to be evaluated.

Staffing Issues and Referral Times

Some therapy directors/managers find themselves in an uphill battle to get new staff members approved. The business case in outpatient therapy is simple: more physical therapist means more patients can be seen in a timely manner.

Most outpatient therapy departments are primarily paid on a fee schedule or a percent of charges. Compare the anticipated revenue of one physical therapist who is 80% productive to the cost of that therapist’s salary and benefits. Your organization will likely find a positive outcome.

If you have a significant wait time from referral to the initial appointment, it is time to hire more therapists, because it is likely some of these patients are either not going to get the physical therapy services they need or they are choosing a competitor for their services.

Contact Blue

Blue & Co.’s Outpatient Therapy Business Advisory Services provides both Assessment and Implementation Guidance to help hospitals understand their revenue and growth opportunities and facilitate changes in processes and behaviors to achieve them. These engagements are not about FTE reduction.

Contact John Britt or your local Blue & Co. Advisor to learn more about Outpatient Therapy Referral Turnaround Times (TAT).
John Britt, Senior Manager

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