Making physician referrals more efficient has become a launch pad for health IT startups

July, 2013, Medcity News – Here’s a stat I’ve heard entrepreneurs cite more times than I can count over the past year: The average physician refers to 229 other physicians, according to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine.The rise of accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes has created new incentives for innovation in how providers and insurers coordinate care. Former software engineer Siu Tong, now CEO of North Carolina-based startup Infina Connect, said that he saw referral management as an area with low-hanging fruit where the company could establish itself by building a solution that provided value to customers quickly.

His company makes a community-based referral resource management system that helps providers identify low-cost, high-quality providers in a network. Already about 4,500 providers and 1,500 clinics across North Carolina are using it, and Tong said the company will soon be looking for seed capital to expand. Its second product is a prescription medication management system.

Infina certainly isn’t the only health startup that’s starting in the physician referral space, although each company seems to approach it from a slightly different angle. eLuminate Health, for example, positions itself as more of a transparency company. It connects physicians and patients with surgeons and radiologists nearby who offer a certain standard procedure. Surgeons and radiologists list how much they charge for that procedure and the patient can choose which one meets his price, quality and location needs.

Another company called Spreemo also focuses on radiology referrals but targets self-insured employers to match injured workers with radiology centers based on quality, geographic proximity, customer service scoring and cost.

Other startups give physicians a way to digitize the process of sharing records and images. eHealth Technologies, for example, markets a suite of record retrieval, referral communication, referral reporting and image-exchange software. Meanwhile, referralMD is developing a platform that allows doctors to see, manage and track their patient referrals in real time and view analytical data that shows which referees are processing referrals most efficiently.

Doximity takes a social approach and provides a physician community designed for networking and connecting, but that could also help physicians find information on other providers that could be used in making referrals.

Are there other companies taking a different approach to improving the process of referrals, or using referral management as a way to get a foot in the door as a provider of IT solutions for ACOs? Let me know which ones I missed in the comments.