Establishing and Providing Effective Referrals for Clients: A Toolkit for Family Planning Providers
Welcome to the Toolkit
Many individuals describe publicly funded family planning providers as their “usual source of care.”1 In this regard, family planning service sites are often an entry point for other services needed by their clients, and visits may include referrals for other related services. Family planning agencies must provide referrals for medical and social needs that go beyond a site’s scope of services as a core component of furthering the goals of access, equity, and quality in family planning services.2
The purpose of this toolkit is to support Title X grantees’ ability to provide effective referrals. It has also been designed to help with oversight of subrecipients in their network who provide referrals. This toolkit provides guidance on setting up systems for consistent provision of referrals. It includes sample policies and strategies for providing high-quality supportive and effective referrals. The toolkit also contains resources for training subrecipients and service sites.
Title X-funded agencies are expected to provide appropriate referrals for medical, informational, educational, and social services related to family planning for clients who want such services.2
Title X grantees, subrecipients, and/or service sites are expected to develop and implement plans to coordinate with and refer clients to other providers of health care and social services, optimally with signed, written collaborative agreements.
Title X agencies should provide for coordination and use of referrals and linkages with, at a minimum:
- Providers of other health care services not provided on-site (e.g. primary or specialty care such as infertility, infectious disease, prenatal care, pregnancy termination)
- Other medical facilities (including hospitals) when medically indicated
- Infant care, foster care, adoption
- Local health and welfare departments (e.g. SNAP, WIC)
- Voluntary agencies (e.g., domestic violence, crisis intervention, Alcoholics Anonymous)
- Ancillary services which may be necessary to facilitate clinic attendance (e.g. childcare, transportation)
- Health services projects supported by other federal programs, who are in close physical proximity to the Title X site, when feasible, in order to promote access to services and provide a seamless continuum of care.
Title X grantees are expected to have a written policy that requires subrecipients and service sites to have policies for providing needed referrals.
Develop written policies for providing needed referrals. Sample policy templates can be modified with agency or site-specific information.
Referrals should be provided when a clinical service provider determines that a client has either medical or social service needs beyond the scope of the clinic’s services. Not all referrals, however, require the same level of support to the client.
Referral-making encompasses a spectrum of potential information-giving and supportive behaviors. These range from providing information on specific services to follow-up on service utilization and outcomes and continuous assessment and improvement of the quality of referrals. “Cold” and “warm” are often used to describe referral behaviors at two points along this spectrum.
A cold referral means providing information to the client about another agency or service, and it is then the client’s responsibility to contact the agency or service (for instance, after receiving a business card or name and phone number for a local resource).
A warm referral involves contacting another agency or service provider on the client’s behalf. This entails calling and making an appointment for the client, providing support to overcome barriers to care, and following up to determine if the appointment has been kept.
Agency policies should indicate the type of referral that is usually most appropriate for each service. Referral type may also depend on the client’s individual circumstances, so providers should use their best judgement.
|A cold referral may be appropriate for services like:
|A warm referral may be appropriate for services like:
|A cold referral may be appropriate for clients who:
|A warm referral may be appropriate for clients who:
Referrals for pregnancy options counseling:
If requested to provide such information and counseling, Title X sites are required to:
Source: 42 CFR 59.5(a)(5)
Referrals for pregnancy options counseling:
Title X sites may not:
Note: These limitations do not apply in cases in which a referral is made for medical indications.
Source: 65 FR 65 FR (41281-41281)
Title X agencies should identify other health care and social service agencies serving the same target population to explore whether having an informal or formal relationship may be mutually beneficial. It is important to develop partnerships with community groups, programs, and organizations that represent various sectors and stakeholders, including those addressing social, economic, and environmental factors—the social determinants—that affect sexual and reproductive health.
Develop partnerships with community groups, programs, and organizations that represent various sectors and stakeholders, including those addressing social, economic, and environmental factors.
Initiate conversations with key specialists, hospitals, and community services around mutual expectations for referrals. Be prepared to discuss the value of partnering with a Title X agency.
Determine the value-add of potential referral partnerships.
Develop a list of local resources, including key contacts at each organization.
Verify referral information (contact information, hours, location) on an annual basis to ensure that it is current.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU) is a written document, generally not legally binding, that outlines a voluntary agreement between parties. It can facilitate inter-agency communication, coordination of services, and continuity of care for clients. A MOU does not need to include complicated legal conditions, exclusions, indemnifications, etc. It should support the work of the collaboration, not inhibit it.
Meet with leadership and/or program managers to discuss referral needs and request collaboration.
Develop a written mutual referral MOU, if during the meeting this is determined to be appropriate.
Mail a cover letter and draft MOU, requesting a response with signatures to indicate approval of the collaboration.
Providing high-quality referrals involves assessing individual clients’ circumstances, identifying potential barriers, and helping them to problem-solve and reduce all barriers, therein increasing their ability to access referral services. Without support, clients may receive referral information, but still not access services. Some of the many barriers Title X clients face in accessing services are related to:
- Lack of child care
- Age-based consent issues
- Legal and policy
- Fear of a lack of privacy
- Fear of judgement
- Fear of scorn, intimidation, coercion, or threats
- Fear of disclosing immigration status
Ensure staff have adequate training and support to help clients with ways to overcome these barriers so they can access the services they need.
Staff must be prepared to provide appropriate referrals and training, identify roles, and develop processes to ensure consistent implementation.
Ensure all clinic staff and administration understand the need for and skills related to providing effective referrals.
Provide frontline staff with an opportunity to practice skills such as:
Designate staff roles to provide referrals, along with a process for communicating that referrals have been made.
Ensure that referrals and associated processes are well-documented. Close the communications loop for high-priority referrals by establishing clear expectations for client-centered communication while respecting client autonomy and confidentiality. Assess periodically how effective agency referrals are and adjust accordingly.
Clearly document referrals. Use a standard protocol and consistent documentation for referrals in the medical record. The reason for referral, informed consent of the client, and any correspondence with the referral provider/ organization should be included.
Develop shared referral tools and processes for services that you regularly refer to (and those that regularly refer to you).
Close the loop. Determine preferred and acceptable methods of communication and set clear expectations with the client at the time of making the referral.
Track referrals. Use referral management software, EHR downloads, or manually keep a record to ensure effective management of referrals.
If a referral isn’t completed, talk to the client during the next visit to find out why, and document the response. Clients are not obligated to follow up with referral recommendations.
Periodically assess the effectiveness of referral services. Ask clients about their referral experience, and ask the partner agencies about their experience giving and receiving your client referrals.
- Frost JJ, U.S. Women’s Use of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services: Trends, Sources of Care and Factors Associated with Use, 1995–2010, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2013, https://www.guttmacher.org/report/us-womens-use-sexual-and-reproductive-health-services-trends-sources-care-and-factors, accessed December 7, 2021.
- Code of Federal Regulations 42 CFR 59.5. https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-42/chapter-I/subchapter-D/part-59 Accessed December 7, 2021.
- Title X Statutes, Regulations, and Legislative Mandates. https://opa.hhs.gov/grant-programs/title-x-service-grants/title-x-statutes-regulations-and-legislative-mandates Accessed December 7, 2021.