Focus on transfers to improve patient care, revenues

In healthcare, minutes become lives saved and lives lost. It goes without saying; the quicker patients arrive at their definitive level of care, the higher the chance for positive outcomes.

However, your hospital and mine face increasing patient volumes and longer wait-times to be seen by clinicians. This nationwide trend directly impacts patient safety and complicates care transitions.

One way our team at Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA) is streamlining patient flow, reducing care delays, and literally saving lives is through a transfer center. The patient care and market share increases we measure through the transfer center are game-changers for our Tennessee-based system, and are possible for organizations nationwide.

Through our transfer center, we increase admissions, reduce patient leakages to competitors and collect business intelligence. Since 1995, our transfer center net revenue contribution margin totals more than $600 million. This enables us to consistently feed more money into quality patient care.


A Patient Flow Gateway

Step one in the patient flow process is the transfer. As such, transfer centers become gateways to the entire care continuum. If the initial transfer leads a patient to the appropriate level of care, positive outcomes are increased, length of stay reduced and satisfaction improved.

A typical transfer center coordinates in-bound transfers of patients from primary care providers' offices, free-standing emergency clinics and from community hospitals into tertiary acute care hospital settings where a higher level of care can be provided. Acting as a hub between referring and accepting providers, transfer centers allow clinicians to send their patients directly to the appropriate level of care, avoiding delays in treatment.

With one phone call, transfer centers allow referring providers to connect with the appropriate accepting provider. Critical patient care milestones are discussed and data is captured viarobust transfer center technology. While a patient is being transported, the receiving facility can prepare for their specific needs.

Transfer Center Patient Care Benefits

  • Prior to creating our transfer center, referring providers made multiple phone calls around the system to access an on-call and willing accepting provider (which can take hours). Now referring providers make one call to the transfer center and immediately start the care transition process.
  • Previously, doctors would call EMS or send patients to an emergency department waiting room when they needed a higher level of care. Providers now call our transfer center to coordinate direct admits, typically bypassing an ED visit.
  • Also, a primary reason we created our transfer center was as a tool for referring emergency departments. Referring EDs can quickly transfer patients, reducing congestion and crowding in this critical department.
  • By quickly getting patients directly to the care level they need, our transfer center saves lives. Talk about a great way to boost staff morale and patient satisfaction! Not to mention building the loyalty of referring providers.

Through transfer center processes and particularly with technology solutions, we have significantly reduced the effort of all EDs, clinics and community hospitals wanting to transfer patients to facilities in our system, thus getting patients quickly to the appropriate care level.

More than ever, as healthcare leaders we must find ways to offer optimal care while appropriately utilizing resources to maintain costs. The transfer center has been one way MSHA has succeeded in our efforts to offer the best care at lower costs.

Shoot me an email if you'd like to get some tips and suggestions on setting up or optimizing your transfer center. As an industry veteran, I'm more than happy to discuss lessons learned and best practices.

Rick Newman is director of the medical transfer center at Mountain States Health Alliance, based in Johnson City, Tenn.