Patient and referral services provides valuable new resource

By Erin Prather Stafford 

When Cynthia Snyder called UT Southwestern’s internal medicine clinic to make an initial appointment, she was told they could not see her for six weeks. Ms. Snyder, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy officer in the Office of Compliance, was disappointed with the wait and considered seeking care elsewhere before a colleague suggested she call patient and physician referral services.

The idea paid off. Ms. Snyder spoke with a registered nurse who directed her to the multispecialty clinic. She saw a primary-care specialist within two days and one week later had an appointment in cardiology to address her health concerns.

Dr. John Rutherford

“I’d never even considered seeing a cardiologist, and it was nice to discuss the nurse’s idea with a primary-care physician,” Ms. Snyder said. “It was the right move for my health care.”

Outcomes like Ms. Snyder’s are exactly what Patricia Sotillo, director of patient and physician referral services, likes to hear. In September she and her team launched both phone and Web channels to assist new patients and referring physicians with scheduling clinical care. In its first two months the department scheduled 340 appointments, tripling the number of referrals from previous months.

“Patients and physicians not only reach trained phone operators when calling or submitting requests electronically, but they also communicate with registered nurses who can help assess the medical situation,” Ms. Sotillo said. “Our team works with every campus clinic so we have data on what is being provided, who is accepting new patients and what options exist if there is an extensive wait time. Our goal is to serve everyone’s needs quickly, while also relieving scheduling pressures on clinics.”

Dr. John Rutherford, vice president for clinical operations, said patient and physician referral services came about after patient satisfaction surveys consistently showed new patients had difficulty making appointments. Each month he updates the faculty practice board on the referral system’s progress. In addition to those from the outside community, he hopes the initiative will inspire UT Southwestern employees to receive their medical care on campus.

“In the past there have been concerns about employee privacy, but these new scheduling resources should eliminate those fears,” Dr. Rutherford said. “One of our top priorities is to accommodate the medical needs of our employees, because that’s simply the right thing to do. It would be a shame for anyone to hesitate about using the system because of privacy worries.”

Ms. Snyder sympathizes with those employees who have concerns. After all, it’s her job to ensure all medical records are kept private and secure.

“There are multiple safeguards — and penalties — in place to prevent personal health information from being accessed inappropriately,” she said. “I now see five different clinics on campus and don’t worry about the wrong people looking at my records. My experience with patient and physician referral services was excellent, and I encourage others to utilize this valuable resource.”

In the spring, patient and physician referral services will launch an employee referral form on the Web site and intranet exclusively for employee use. For now, telephone operators and registered nurses may be contacted at 214-645-8300 or online at