Improvement of eReferrals saves patients three hours

On average, the citizens of Serbia visit their general practitioner three to four times in order to get referrals for the specialist examinations they need, find out their diagnosis and receive treatment. These patients are often seriously ill, so family members knock on the door of the general practitioner instead of them. All of this requires considerable effort and unnecessary waste of time for patients and general practitioners, who receive more than 14 million visits from citizens annually.

For them, the solution is the specialist eReferral – a new procedure that would allow all healthcare specialists, on all levels of healthcare, to refer patients to other specialists, inpatient treatment, control examinations or board opinion. In Grey Book no. 14, which was published by NALED this year, the introduction of eReferrals was one of the 10 priority recommendations, and it was included as a measure in the Digitization Programme of the Serbian Healthcare System from 2022 to 2026.

- It is necessary for patients to be disburdened of unnecessary visits to primary care centers and their general practitioners for specialist and control examinations if they are chronic patients. With the improvement of eReferrals, the number of returns to obtain a new referral would be reduced, while the process of getting a diagnosis would become faster. It is estimated that general practitioners would have up to seven visits less per day, while the time saved per patient would be three hours - explains Una Ljubičić, president of the Healthcare Alliance at NALED.

Our interlocutor explains that, for the full implementation and improvement of the eReferral system, it is necessary to enable specialist doctors to refer the patient to further specialist treatment, control examination, board opinion or inpatient treatment through the Integrated Information System, while the general practitioner would have access to all referrals and reports by specialist doctors. Apart from the digitization itself, one of the key improvements would be the establishment of a protocol - a list of necessary analyses that need to be performed before referral to a specialist examination, so that visits to specialist doctors can take place with all the necessary documentation.

The procedure, which now consists of eight steps, would thus be shortened to six. The savings would be huge, because the number of visits to the general practitioner could be halved to around seven million per year, and according to some estimates, even more. According to this calculation, 5,548 general practitioners will have 1,764 fewer visits per year after the implementation of this measure. Another benefit this measure will bring to citizens is that they will no longer have to carry paper documents with them.

- We are hoping that the implementation of eReferrals will begin shortly, given that it was also planned in the Programme for Digitization of Healthcare. This is the direction in which we should go, and which will bring a lot, just like the introduction of ePrescriptions resulted in savings of two million euros per year - concludes Ljubičić.

As a reminder, with the digitization of the health system, each patient will have a unique electronic health record, with all personal health data, which the doctors they visit will have access to, which will speed up the journey through the health system, improve treatment results, reduce waiting lists, unnecessary repetition of analyzes and returns to their general practitioner for new referrals.

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