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How closed-loop referrals help retain program participants

October 10, 2021
A young doctor shares closed-loop referral information from his tablet with an older patient.

As Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” This concept is reflected in the way that people often turn to nonprofit organizations and human services agencies for help when struggling to overcome sensitive situations like trauma, poverty, and mental health issues. However, the barriers to receiving this help can exacerbate intense feelings, especially when vulnerable individuals who need help are asked to jump through several hoops to receive care.

Due to different intake forms or disparate logic models, participants may have to explain their experiences and personal information to each organization and sometimes multiple caseworkers at each agency. This can be intense and emotionally taxing during this critical time for those seeking help. Having multiple forms and interviews to complete can often lead to overwhelmed participants who don’t pursue the care they need.

So, how can social good organizations relieve some of this pressure? First, the organization should ensure they get a complete view of each participant’s journey to understand why the customer is there and what they need to be successful outside of the organization. Then, ensure those details are communicated throughout your organization to provide a journey of connected care and prevent anyone from falling through the cracks. 

Using closed-loop referrals makes your operations more effective and gives your participants the services they need on a shorter timeline. 

The typical participant journey

Step 1

Participants seek help from organizations for various reasons like homelessness, health issues, family trauma, abuse, mental health concerns, and more. During this stage, they contact an organization and ask for services.

Step 2

Next, the participant provides relevant information to the organization.

Let’s say your organization provides homelessness services for women. Your organization asks the client to fill out an intake form to understand her situation. Your services and resources allow you to help the participant secure emergency housing, counseling, and some essentials. But, there are other urgent issues that create a complex web of needs your organization cannot meet alone. In this case, the participant is also fleeing a physically abusive partner and needs legal support and therapy. 

At this point, a caseworker begins the referral process to obtain these additional services.

Step 3

The case manager reaches out via phone or email to your organization’s network of peer organizations and established referral partners. In our example, the case manager would talk to a representative from a domestic abuse organization to ensure that the organization can provide additional services and support to the client.

Step 4

Once your homelessness organization refers the client to the domestic abuse organization, your caseworkers are no longer “in the know” about the client’s full care plan. Typically, the client will also be asked to fill out a separate intake form at the second organization before receiving services.

Asking more organizations to step up and provide care to participants is crucial to putting them on the path to recovery and a better life. But when there are more organizations involved, there are more ways for people to slip through the cracks.

Possible cracks in the participant journey

From the client’s perspective, getting the help they need can feel taxing and bureaucratic. Individuals with poor mental health are roughly twice as likely to report lacking the health care they need and two-and-a-half times as likely to have additional unmet social needs. 

Why do these individuals face these challenges? Here are some possible reasons:

  • Asking for help is hard. While organizations work diligently to develop efficient processes, the reality is that participants are doing something much more demanding than getting a driver’s license or filling out a job application. They’re turning to strangers to get specialized support with emotional, complex, vulnerable, and difficult challenges.
  • The process is stressful. To help someone in need, organizations need to process and store key pieces of data. Without a robust technology solution, getting that information and sharing it with the right people at the right times is not so easy. This can result in added stress for participants if they have to share their stories several times with multiple people and organizations. When getting help is this difficult, participants may not receive the care they need when they need it the most.
  • No one has the full story. Sometimes, participants can feel like the system designed to help has failed them instead. Because social workers and case managers don’t always have full visibility into the participant’s journey across multiple organizations, they won’t always know when someone is at risk of dropping out of a program or service.

Organizations need a more efficient, safe, and easy way to work with other community organizations to streamline operations and provide more positive experiences to participants struggling with sensitive issues.

The closed-loop referral solution

Bonterra Program Management’s Case Management solution offers a closed-loop referrals feature that helps bridge the gap between various community-based organizations (CBOs). By working together to create a more unified, interconnected environment, these organizations can provide better care. 

This functionality also keeps staff more organized, aware, and secure, making it more likely that participants will receive the care they need and succeed in their journey. When each CBO providing care and services to a participant has the same visibility into a client’s journey, the people providing services for that client can be on the same page. As an outcome, clients receive better services fueled by accurate and up-to-date shared data.

This evolution of care allows clients to easily go from one CBO to another as needed. With closed-loop referrals, secure referrals are seamless and allow CBOs to connect and collaborate fully. This level of service gives clients life-changing feelings of security, support, and care.

Closed-loop referral functionalities have the power to change how organizations coordinate care for participants across the community, ensuring vulnerable people don’t fall through the cracks. Closed-loop referrals enable CBOs to:

  • Work seamlessly with other CBOs
  • Easily share information to work towards shared logic models and community-based outcomes
  • Coordinate referrals and connect participants to providers using a single platform
  • Manage care and track progress in a uniform way among all participating CBOs

With closed-loop referrals, you can retain more participants by giving them the highest quality care and making the difficult process of asking for help more comfortable. Switching to this process allows you to more accurately track and share data with peer organizations to build a well-connected community of social good services.

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    Case Management
  • Healthcare
  • Human services
  • Nonprofits
  • Public agencies
  • Coordinating social services