When restorative doctors and specialists collaborate on a case, success can be measured in terms of four factors:
- Clinical outcomes
- Patient satisfaction with the process and results
- Efficient interoffice function
- Reinforcement of the referral relationship
All will be influenced, for better or worse, by the quality of communications between the two teams. To ensure the greatest possible success in every respect, practices should take a thorough, business-like approach to communications planning. Here are four key recommendations.
Before the two practices begin working together on a case, the doctors should agree on what steps should be followed and who will take responsibility for them. This must include the assignment of communications responsibilities as well. Should the doctors have a preliminary conference? What information will patients need, and specifically who will provide it? Who will report case progress and changes between offices and with the patient? How will patient financial matters be addressed and communicated? Questions such as these should be anticipated so that nothing will fall through the cracks as treatment proceeds.
2. Define the best means of interoffice communications
Some doctors prefer connecting over the phone, while others are more comfortable with email. One practice may routinely document cases on a secure website, while another may rely on hard-copy interoffice reports and letters. Before work on a case begins in earnest, the two offices should spell out what mode of communication will work best for both parties.
3. Create a schedule for regular interoffice communications
If the treatment timetable is predictable, the schedule for communicating between offices and with patients can be established up front. In other situations, events or situations can be identified as “triggers” for communication to occur. The objective is to ensure that the doctors, teams, and patients receive the information they need in a timely way. It’s simply not acceptable for patients to end up informing specialists about developments that the restorative offices should have already communicated, or vice versa.
4. Finalize the collaborative case
Not only should the specialists provide a final report to the restorative doctors, but some communication about what happened in restoring cases should also occur. Equally important, patients should receive explanations about what has been achieved, how it will benefit them, and what post-treatment home care is recommended. As the collaboration concludes, each office team should make complimentary remarks to the patient about the other office.
By addressing all of these communication needs, restorative doctors and specialists will experience smoother, less stressful collaborations, patients will be happier with the services they receive, and the referral relationship will be strengthened.