WO2003032192A1 - Service provider selection and management system and method - Google Patents

Service provider selection and management system and method Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2003032192A1
WO2003032192A1 PCT/AU2002/001386 AU0201386W WO03032192A1 WO 2003032192 A1 WO2003032192 A1 WO 2003032192A1 AU 0201386 W AU0201386 W AU 0201386W WO 03032192 A1 WO03032192 A1 WO 03032192A1
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WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
service provider
service
method
service providers
specialist
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Application number
PCT/AU2002/001386
Other languages
French (fr)
Other versions
WO2003032192A8 (en
Inventor
Michael D'emden
Original Assignee
Studico Pty Ltd
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Filing date
Publication date
Priority to AUPR8237A priority Critical patent/AUPR823701A0/en
Priority to AUPR8237 priority
Application filed by Studico Pty Ltd filed Critical Studico Pty Ltd
Publication of WO2003032192A1 publication Critical patent/WO2003032192A1/en
Publication of WO2003032192A8 publication Critical patent/WO2003032192A8/en

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Classifications

    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q30/00Commerce, e.g. shopping or e-commerce
    • G06Q30/02Marketing, e.g. market research and analysis, surveying, promotions, advertising, buyer profiling, customer management or rewards; Price estimation or determination
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q10/00Administration; Management
    • G06Q10/10Office automation, e.g. computer aided management of electronic mail or groupware; Time management, e.g. calendars, reminders, meetings or time accounting
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q30/00Commerce, e.g. shopping or e-commerce
    • G06Q30/06Buying, selling or leasing transactions
    • GPHYSICS
    • G16INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY [ICT] SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR SPECIFIC APPLICATION FIELDS
    • G16HHEALTHCARE INFORMATICS, i.e. INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY [ICT] SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR THE HANDLING OR PROCESSING OF MEDICAL OR HEALTHCARE DATA
    • G16H40/00ICT specially adapted for the management or administration of healthcare resources or facilities; ICT specially adapted for the management or operation of medical equipment or devices
    • G16H40/20ICT specially adapted for the management or administration of healthcare resources or facilities; ICT specially adapted for the management or operation of medical equipment or devices for the management or administration of healthcare resources or facilities, e.g. managing hospital staff or surgery rooms
    • GPHYSICS
    • G16INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY [ICT] SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR SPECIFIC APPLICATION FIELDS
    • G16HHEALTHCARE INFORMATICS, i.e. INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY [ICT] SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR THE HANDLING OR PROCESSING OF MEDICAL OR HEALTHCARE DATA
    • G16H80/00ICT specially adapted for facilitating communication between medical practitioners or patients, e.g. for collaborative diagnosis, therapy or health monitoring
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06FELECTRIC DIGITAL DATA PROCESSING
    • G06F19/00Digital computing or data processing equipment or methods, specially adapted for specific applications
    • G06F19/30Medical informatics, i.e. computer-based analysis or dissemination of patient or disease data
    • G06F19/32Medical data management, e.g. systems or protocols for archival or communication of medical images, computerised patient records or computerised general medical references
    • G06F19/328Health insurance management, e.g. payments or protection against fraud
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06FELECTRIC DIGITAL DATA PROCESSING
    • G06F19/00Digital computing or data processing equipment or methods, specially adapted for specific applications
    • G06F19/30Medical informatics, i.e. computer-based analysis or dissemination of patient or disease data
    • G06F19/34Computer-assisted medical diagnosis or treatment, e.g. computerised prescription or delivery of medication or diets, computerised local control of medical devices, medical expert systems or telemedicine
    • G06F19/3418Telemedicine, e.g. remote diagnosis, remote control of instruments or remote monitoring of patient carried devices

Abstract

A selector interface (2), a service provider interface (4) and a server (8) are coupled to a communications network (6), the server (8) comprising or being coupled to a database for storing information relating to selectors, service providers and entities potentially requiring the services of the service providers. A selector specifies at least one criterion desirably possessed by a service provider and suitable service providers are ranked according to their suitability based on weightings assigned to attributes associated with the service providers. Selection and engagement of a service provider invokes the interrogation of a service provider rostering facility and an electronic communication routing facility.

Description

TITLE SERVICE PROVIDER SELECTION AND MANAGEMENT SYSTEM AND

METHOD

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates to a service provider selection and management system and method. In particular, although not exclusively, the invention relates to a system and method for selecting a service provider, such as, but not limited to a medical specialist, consultant technician or the like, from a list of service providers, and for managing the engagement of the services of the service providers.

BACKGROUND TO THE INVENTION

In many disciplines and in many scenarios, the services of an expert or specialist in a particular field are required and are employed.

For example, a doctor may refer his patient to a specialist in a particular medical field, a company may require the services of a consultant to provide a solution to, for example, an Information Technology (IT) problem, or a business or other entity may need the services of a range of service providers for different purposes.

Often a service provider is chosen from a list of service providers with the same expertise. Conventionally, this may be done by selecting a service provider from a list of service providers arranged in alphabetical order. Alternatively, the service providers may be ordered according to their geographical location. Another alternative is to arrange the service providers according to their specialty. For example, all IT consultants may be grouped together in some sort of directory or all endocrinologists grouped together in a medical database. Information about service providers may be stored in and accessed from conventional directories such as telephone directories or stored in and accessed from electronic databases such as those accessible via the Internet or other communications networks. Alternatively, in some fields of expertise, dedicated databases exist that store information relating to experts or specialists in that field. For example, in the medical profession, general practitioners may refer patients to specialists for treatment and the specialist may be selected by the general practitioner using a program known as Medical Director. In this program, the general practitioner may enter details relating to specialists that he/she uses. A specific specialist may be selected by surname and their details displayed. Alternatively, for example, all specialists in a particular discipline may be displayed and the general practitioner may select the specialist from the displayed list of specialists.

Although the electronic methods of selecting service providers possess the advantage of speed of selection over manual methods, both methods share common drawbacks.

Often, service providers are listed alphabetically as previously mentioned and therefore those service providers appearing towards the beginning of the alphabet are more likely to be viewed and chosen for their services in comparison with service providers appearing towards the end of the alphabet.

Arranging service providers by geographical location may lead to a particularly suitable service provider being overlooked by virtue of the service provider appearing in a different yet viable geographical grouping. A further drawback is that conventional ordering/listing of service providers generally does not take into account other important parameters relating to the service provider, which may influence the selection of that service provider. Regarding the aforementioned methods of selecting specialists in the medical profession, these methods have additional disadvantages. For example, once a patient has been referred to a specialist, there is no efficient means by which the referral can be monitored. Often it is imperative that a patient maintains an appointment and is seen within a specified time frame. If this is not monitored, there could be serious consequences.

Another factor is that many practices are gearing toward paperless offices, which is evidenced by information such as pathology and radiological reports currently being in electronic format. However, the aforementioned Medical Director program for example does not enable general practitioners (GPs) to communicate with specialists electronically, thus preventing the achievement of a paperless office.

Clearly there is a need for a system and/or method by which service providers may be easily and efficiently selected by those who require their services and which does not comprise unfair bias, which is inherent in, for example, the alphabetical arrangement system described above. There is also a clear need for a means by which the engagement of the service provider may be managed.

DISCLOSURE OF THE INVENTION In one form, although it need not be the only or indeed the broadest form, the invention resides in a service provider selection and management system comprising: at least one selector interface, at least one service provider interface and a server coupled to a communications network; storage means accessible at least by said selector interface and said server for storing elements of information relating at least to a plurality of service providers; a microprocessor for: assigning a weighting to at least one of said elements of information for each said service provider; and calculating a suitability value for each service provider based on at least one of said weightings and on at least one criterion specified by the selector that a service provider desirably possesses; display means for displaying a ranking of said service providers in order of their suitability, the suitability of each service provider being dependent on said calculated suitability values; and a transmitter for sending a communication to appoint one of said ranked service providers.

Preferably, the storage means also stores elements of information relating to one or more entities requiring the services of the service providers.

The system preferably further comprises a receiver for receiving one or more communications from a service provider.

Preferably, said microprocessor detects when a communication has not been received from a service provider within a preset time period. Suitably, the selector interface and the service provider interface are one of: a computer, a mobile phone, PDA, handheld PC.

In another form, the invention resides in a method of appointing a service provider according to a calculated suitability of the service provider for providing their service to an entity, said method including the steps of: storing elements of information relating at least to a plurality of service providers; assigning a weighting to at least one of said elements of information for each said service provider; specifying at least one criterion that a service provider suitable for providing their service to said entity desirably possesses; calculating a suitability value for a plurality of service providers based on at least one of said weightings and on said at least one criterion; displaying a ranking of said service providers in order of their suitability, the suitability of each service provider being dependent on said calculated suitability values; and selecting one of said ranked service providers to provide their

service.

The method may further include the step of selecting a preferred group of service providers from a plurality of groups of service providers, said suitability values being calculated for service providers in the preferred group.

The method may further include the step of transmitting a communication to the selected service provider to engage the services thereof.

The communication is preferably transmitted to the service provider electronically via a communication network and preferably includes information relating to one or more of: the entity, the purpose for which the service provider has been selected. The communication may be encrypted and may include a priority indicator.

The method further includes incrementing the weighting of at least one of said elements of information in response to confirmation from the service provider that their service has been at least partially provided to the entity. Preferably, the weighting of at least one of said elements of information is incremented when the service for the particular purpose has been completely provided.

In the event that a service provider does not provide confirmation within a preset time period, an alert to this effect may be generated or a reminder automatically forwarded to the service provider and/or the entity to which the service is to be provided.

The elements of information relating to the service providers may include one or more of: contact details, geographical location, availability, hours of business, field of expertise, sub-fields of expertise, limitations, additional skills, facilities associated with the service provider's business, number of times previously selected, waiting times, billing information, or the like.

The method may further include the step of storing elements of information relating to one or more entities that require the services of the service providers.

The elements of information relating to entities that require the services of the service providers may include one or more of: contact details, personal information, geographical location, limitations, language requirements, information relating to both the entity and the services provided by the service providers.

The criteria that a suitable service provider desirably possesses may include elements of information relating to the one or more entities and/or may include information entered by a user.

In the step of calculating a suitability value for each service provider, the selector may specify which elements of information are and are not used for the calculation.

The method may further include the step of, prior to calculating suitability values for service providers, excluding unsuitable service providers. This may be done by the selector or may be carried out automatically on the basis of one or more specified criteria not being satisfied by the service provider.

The step of selecting one of said ranked service providers preferably includes interrogating an availability facility to check whether the service provider is available to provide their service.

The interrogation step may include interrogating an on line rostering database into which availability times of the service providers have been entered. If a service provider is unavailable an interrogation is carried out to verify whether the service provider has specified a replacement service provider. A selector of the service provider may verify the suitability of any specified replacement.

Further features of the invention will become apparent from the following description.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

To assist in understanding of the invention and to aid a person skilled in the art to put the invention into practical effect preferred embodiments will now be described by way of example only and with reference to the accompanying drawings, wherein: FIG 1 is a schematic representation of a system according to one aspect of the present invention;

FIG 2 is a screenshot of an options menu of the service provider selection and management system;

FIG 3A is a screenshot showing a first part of information relating to a service provider;

FIG 3B is a screenshot showing a second part of information relating to the service provider shown in FIG 3A;

FIG 4 is a screenshot showing information relating to a selector of a service provider;

FIG 5A is a screenshot showing information relating to entities requiring the services of the service providers;

FIG 5B a screenshot showing an alternative embodiment to that shown in FIG 5A; FIG 6 is a screenshot showing the results of a search for suitable service providers;

FIG 7 is a flowchart representing the steps involved in a completed referral of a patient by a GP to a specialist;

FIG 8 is a flowchart representing the method of selecting a specialist in accordance with the present invention;

FIG 9 is a screenshot showing means for accommodating the nonavailability of service providers;

FIG 10 is a screenshot representing the sending of an electronic communication in the form of an SMS message to a service provider; FIG 11 is a screenshot showing a facility for managing SMS messages;

FIG 12 is a screenshot of a service provider availability facility in the form of an on-line rostering system; and

FIG 13 is a flowchart representing the sending of an electronic communication to a service provider.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is described in relation to a general practitioner (GP) selecting a medical specialist to whom the GP wishes to refer his or her patient. However, it will be appreciated that the present invention is equally applicable to any scenario in which one selector wishes to select and potentially engage the services of a service provider, whether for their own purposes or on behalf of another entity and in which the selector has a choice of a number of different service providers.

Referring to FIG 1 , the service provider selection and management system of the present invention comprises at least one selector interface 2 and at least one service provider interface 4, both of which are coupled to a communications network 6 such as the Internet. The selector and service provider interfaces may be personal computers, laptop computers, handheld PCs, personal digital assistants (PDAs) or other such device.

A server 8 is coupled to the communications network 6 and to means (not shown) for transmitting and receiving an SMS message to and from a communications device 10 of the service provider, such as a mobile phone, PDA or the like. Clearly, where the service provider interface has SMS capability, a separate mobile phone will not be required. The means for transmitting an SMS message generated in the manner described below to a mobile phone, PDA or the like is known to persons skilled in the art and is not described in detail herein. In the present example, the selector interface 2 is that associated with each GP, for example within a practice wherein the interface of each GP may be linked to an internal communications network. The service provider's interface 4 is that associated with each specialist and may also be one of a plurality of specialist interfaces coupled to an internal communications network of, for example, a hospital.

The server 8 comprises or is coupled to at least one database that stores information relating to service providers, information relating to entities requiring the services of service providers and information relating to selectors of service providers. Separate databases may be employed to store the information for each category or segments of the same database may be used.

Certain characteristics, attributes, skills and other . information related to each service provider have associated with them a numerical weighting or bias. The characteristics and attributes and their associated weighting depend on the particular service provider and on the service being provided. The cumulative weightingβ of each service provider are calculated and compared to achieve a ranking of service providers to identify the most suitable service provider(s) for a particular purpose. When a suitable service provider is being sought from a plurality of potentially suitable service providers, the selector seeking the service provider specifies at least one desirable criterion that the service provider should possess. In the present example, the selector is a GP who specifies the desirable characteristic that a specialist possesses, such as being a diabetes specialist, to whom the GP wishes to refer his/her patient. The present invention then automatically searches for suitable service providers and displays the most appropriate candidates in ranking order. The selection and ranking depend on how well the specified desired criteria are matched by the characteristics and attributes of the service provider and on other information relating to the service provider, GP and patient. The selection and ranking may also depend on other factors such as the level of service provided by the specialist on one or more previous occasions. in the medical example described herein, the specialist selection process will be carried out after the GP has examined the patient and therefore the selection process will be dependent to an extent on the GP's findings, e.g. that the patient may have a heart condition and therefore should be referred to a cardiologist. In other applications, the selection process will be dependent to an extent on the findings of some preliminary analysis, such as the identification of a fault in an appliance or a deficiency in a system that requires the services of a service provider.

FIG 2 shows a screenshot of an options menu presented to a user, such as the GP, upon activation of the service provider selection and management system. In this example, most of the selectable options relate to this particular medical application. However, it will be appreciated that for a different application, the selectable options will differ. For example, in alternative applications the patient menu may instead be a client menu, a buyer menu or a customer menu and instead of a specialists' names menu, consultants' names, tradesmen or the like may be listed or whoever are appropriate to the particular application.

As shown in FIGS 3A and 3B, selecting the specialist's names menu displays details of one specialist at a time. Service providers may register to be entered on the system for a particular application by virtue of an online registration facility accessible via the communications network 6. The selector may also add new service providers and their details to the system. New service providers are discussed later herein. The variables relating to each service provider that may be assigned a weighting and which therefore may influence whether a service provider is short-listed as being the most suitable will now be described.

Generally the name, physical address and email address of the specialist will be displayed in addition to contact details such as telephone, mobile, pager and/or facsimile numbers. Best or preferred contact information may be displayed, which specifies the most suitable contact information for particular times of day, week or month or the like. The contact information displayed may be dependent on and in accordance with the time the search is being carried out. in this particular application, the specialty of the specialist is also stated. Generally, a specialist will expect to be referred patients with problems in their specialty only and is assumed to have greatest expertise in that area and minimal expertise in all other areas. In contrast, it is assumed that a generalist will have enhanced skills in all areas. With reference to FIGS 3A and 3B, in addition to the specialty of the specialist, a specialist's medical interests may be entered. In the example shown in FIG 3A and 3B, the three interests of diabetes, bone and ovary are stated. A weighting based on the interests of the specialist can be calculated according to a simple algorithm, the specific algorithm employed being dependent on the particular application. In this example, the three specified interests yield an interest value of 17 for this specialist. A specialist with only a single interest yields an interest value of 30 and a specialist with two interests yields an interest value of 20. The relative weightings arise because a specialist with a single interest area is assumed to have a greater degree of expertise in that single interest area than a specialist with interests in more than one area.

With reference to FIGS 3A and 3B, a restriction and an associated restriction value for the specialist may also be specified. A specialist may only deal with a narrow area within a particular discipline and this restriction will be specified here. It will be assumed that the specialist's expertise will be greatest in this restricted area and will be negligible in other areas. For example, a specialist's work may be confined to nuclear medicine. The restriction will be assigned a value or weighting, which will be taken into account when a specialist is being sought. Therefore, if the restriction is in the area of expertise required by a patient, this will obviously be in the specialist's favour. This will raise the ranking of the specialist and increases the chances of the specialist being selected as suitable. If not, the specialist is unlikely to be listed/ranked as a possible suitable specialist to treat the patient, or at least will appear well down the ranking.

Regarding the geographical location of the specialist, X and Y map coordinates may be specified to accurately pinpoint the specialist's place of business, the GP's place of business and optionally the patient's residential address. A specialist's XY map coordinates are shown in FIGS 3A and 3B and a GP's XY map coordinates are shown in FIG 4. It is desirable that the patient should travel the shortest possible distance to visit their specialist. The proximity of the specialist to the patient may be particularly important if the mobility of the patient is limited. For example, if two specialists are otherwise equally suited to treating a particular patient, but one specialist is situated physically closer to the GP's practice or the residence of a patient, the location weighting of that specialist will be higher than the other specialist and therefore will appear higher in the ranking of displayed suitable specialists.

The proximity weighting will, in general, be determined by calculating the distance between the places of business of the specialist and the GP. Alternatively, in instances where the patient is remote from the GP, the proximity weighting reflecting the relationship between the GP and local specialists is inappropriate, and location can be selected by postcode, region, state or hospital association.

Alternatively, the location weighting may be determined based on postcodes rather than map coordinates. As another alternative to map coordinates/grid references, degrees latitude and longitude may be specified and distances derived therefrom. As shown in FIGS 3A and 3B, the distance is specified and a weighting value assigned to that distance.

Whichever method is selected to define the service provider's geographical location, a commercially available program displaying the relevant area and coordinates or equivalent may be utilised. One example of such a program is UBD Six Cities 2001 (Universal Press, Waterloo Rd, Macquarie Park, NSW, 2113). The present invention may be linked to such a program such that when an address, part of an address or a postcode is entered in the relevant field for each service provider, the coordinates or the like are automatically entered in the coordinate fields as shown in FIGS 3A and 3B. The means for implementing this aspect of the invention would be familiar to a person skilled in the art.

Also shown in FIGS 3A and 3B is a value labelled commitment. This represents the amount of time the specialist is available at a specified medical facility, practice, institution or the like. A specialist present at a site throughout the week is likely to be able to provide a better service based on availability than one who is only available a few hours per week. Therefore, the former specialist will receive a correspondingly higher weighting for this variable/attribute.

The value labelled hospital affiliation in FIGS 3A and 3B refers to the hospital to which the specialist is associated and the weighting assigned to this variable is dependent on the additional facilities that a specialist has at their disposal that they may be able to make available to the patient.

Another skill of the specialist that may be relevant to their suitability is the specialist's ability to speak languages other than the official or predominant language(s) of the country in which the present invention is being used. If the patient requires, or would prefer, the specialist to whom they will be referred to speak a particular language, this may be specified. A specialist with the desired language capability would rank more highly than an equally qualified/suited specialist without that language capability. A further factor that may affect the selection of a specialist is whether the GP/referrer has previously chosen the specialist. The previous choice of a specialist indicates some degree of prior suitability of that specialist, which may be taken into account when assessing the suitability of specialists for present referrals. This factor is also important in addressing the prior art difficulties of monitoring referrals and achieving a paperless office.

A completed referral in connection with the present invention is represented by the flowchart in FIG 7 and is one that involves the following steps. Once the specialist has been selected the patient is referred to the specialist electronically by email and/or SMS as described herein as represented by step 100. In step 102, the specialist acknowledges the referral electronically and the specialist then sees the patient as represented by step 104. The specialist informs the GP electronically once the referral has taken place as represented by step 106, which completes the referral as represented by step 108. This electronic communication loop enables a GP to ensure the specialist has received the referral and monitor whether a patient has kept their appointment. This process also encourages electronic rather than paper communication thus supporting the drive toward paperless offices. A completed referral is stored by the system in the database associated with the server 8 for that specialist and each completed referral increases the weighting of that specialist's completed referral variable. Preferably, the weighting is only increased once a referral is complete rather than merely when the referral is transmitted to the specialist. Alternatively, the weighting may be partially increased when the specialist has acknowledged the referral. Only one completed referral per year, per patient, per specialist, per specific problem is permitted, thus avoiding erroneous duplications. Any other communications between the GP and the specialist may be stored but will not contribute to increasing the completed referral variable weighting.

After a preset time period, optionally selectable by the GP, if a specialist has not informed the GP that the referral has taken place, the GP will be reminded of an outstanding referral and may prompt the specialist and/or the patient to follow up the appointment. The prompt may be in the form of an electronic communication such as an email or SMS message.

A failure to acknowledge the referral on behalf of the specialist constitutes a non-communication and prevents the specialist's referral weighting from being increased. A failure to keep a referral appointment by a patient constitutes an incomplete referral, but this may still allow the specialist's referral weighting to be at least partially increased as described above. Both situations may be automatically detected by the present invention and followed up by, for example, a reminder being brought to the attention of the GP and/or the defaulting party. The specialist may also or alternatively send an email to the GP to inform them that a patient has not kept an appointment.

Returning to the variables associated with the specialist, different types of referrals may affect the ranking of the specialist and the referrals may be taken into account in different ways. For example, all referrals may be considered, irrespective of their status or when the referral or treatment of the patient occurred. Alternatively, completed referrals only may be counted. Another possibility is that referrals taking place within a specified time frame, such as within the last year, the last two years, or the like, may be considered. A preset referral threshold or plurality of referral thresholds may be set, the achievement or surpassing of each threshold causing the relevant weighting to be accordingly incremented. Electronic referrals only may be considered to encourage electronic communication, although paper referrals may also be taken into account. The suitability of these options may vary and may depend on the frequency with which specialists are selected. One or more of the aforementioned methods of considering the number of referrals may be incorporated into the present invention to provide the user with maximum flexibility. It will be appreciated that other factors in this regard will apply when the present invention is applied to different types of service providers.

Waiting times for patients to see specialists is another variable that may be considered in the present invention. It is of little benefit that a specialist may be highly suitable for treating a patient if the patient must wait an unfeasible or unacceptable length of time before treatment may take place. Waiting times, measured from when a GP refers a patient to the time the specialist is available to see the patient, may be calculated by the present invention from previous completed referral data, providing sufficient data is available. An average waiting time, based on the previous referral data, may be calculated, which could then be compared to a default or benchmark waiting time. Average waiting times less than the benchmark may be given a positive weighting and average weighting times exceeding the benchmark may be given a negative weighting. The magnitude of the weighting may be in accordance with how far above or below the benchmark a specialist's average waiting time falls. Alternatively, a mean or median waiting time may be calculated, possibly including standard deviations in those calculations. A further alternative would be to collate the maximum and minimum waiting times from the referral data to provide a range. Any calculated value may be adjusted to consider, for example, most recent referrals, to take into account an improvement or deterioration in waiting times. Any estimated waiting time might also be communicated to the patient. Calculation of waiting times may be achieved by any suitable means known to persons skilled in the art.

Optionally, waiting times may be excluded from consideration when a specialist's ranking is being calculated. Instead, current estimated waiting times based on previous referral data may be displayed in an on screen dialogue box for consideration by the GP at their discretion. Waiting times may be less of a consideration than selecting the most appropriate specialist, especially in non-urgent cases. Waiting times may also influence the prioritisation of a referral, or may cause a GP to select another specialist. Another factor that may be of importance, particularly to the patient, is the billing policy and billing information relating to the specialist. For example, whether the specialist participates in no-gap hospitalisation programs may be of concern or the treatments that may or may not be covered. Any features in this regard may be given a weighting suitable to the context.

As shown in FIG 4, GPs are independently identified within the system. As many GPs work in group practices using networked programs, each GP within a practice is assigned a unique identifier. If the group works from separate geographical locations, each site and doctor will require a separate entry in the networked database. Patient data may or may not be shared, but the referral patterns of each user will be unique. Group practices using a networked program may provide additional benefits for the selection program as waiting times for appointments for the whole group may be calculated giving statistically stronger information concerning this variable. Selecting the GPs names menu shown in FIG 2 may display details of each GP using the group program one at a time.

With reference to FIGS 5A and 5B, the present invention also comprises an entity database storing information about those who wish to engage the services of the service provider. In the present example, this is a patient database. The patient database comprises personal and medical details relating to the patient and any other information, such as language requirements as described hereinbefore, which may be relevant in determining a suitable specialist. For example, as shown in FIG 5A, the patient is shown to have the primary condition of Type 2 Diabetes. In an alternative embodiment shown in FIG 5B, the patient's reason for referral is shown as being hypercholoesterolaemia.

It will be appreciated that in other applications of the present invention, rather than a patient database, the invention may comprise, for example, a customer or client database or a supplier database, containing salient information.

The method of ranking and selecting a service provider in order of their suitability for providing their service to an entity will now be described with reference to the flowchart in FIG 8 in the context of a GP selecting a medical specialist from a ranked group thereof for a patient with one or more conditions requiring treatment by a specialist.

Once the GP and patient have been selected from the GP and patient databases respectively as represented by steps 110 and 112, the GP identifies the condition that necessitates the referral, such as diabetes, thyroid problems, high blood pressure or other medical condition, as represented by step 114. Preferably, the type of specialist required is selected from a list of types (shown in FIG 5A), as represented by step 116 in FIG 8. The method may default to a preferred group of one or more specialists suitable for the specified condition, thus excluding totally irrelevant specialists as represented by step 118. This reduces the amount of data upon which the search must be carried out and thus the computation time. This feature also enables specialists with more than one area of expertise to be considered for each of their expertise areas without being overlooked or only being considered for their primary area of expertise. The preferred group of specialists may be amended by the GP as represented by step 120 prior to executing the ranking process to include and/or exclude particular specialists. The group of specialists may be displayed in alphabetical order for ease of review by the GP, but does not bias the selection process as described with reference to the prior art.

In accordance with the present invention, the method then calculates the most appropriate specialist(s) for the patient by summing the weightings for the variables being taken into account for each specialist. This is represented by step 122. The specialist with the highest summed value will be the highest ranked. Alternatively, if an alternative weighting system is employed for the patients/specialists, the most suitable specialist may be the one with the lowest summed value. In another embodiment, the ranking calculation may involve applying a different mathematical function to the weightings to calculate the most

appropriate specialist(s).

As represented by step 124, at least the names of the most appropriate specialists are then displayed in rank order, as shown in FIG 6. The order is based on a numerical value calculated from one or more of the aforementioned weighted variables/attributes. In the example shown in FIG 6, the highest-ranking specialist is the specialist with the highest score. Other information relating to the most appropriate specialists may also be displayed, such as their specialty, the name and location of the clinic/institution with which they are affiliated. Further details relating to the highest-ranking specialist may automatically be displayed as shown in FIG 6. Upon selection of one of the other specialists listed as being most appropriate, their further details may be displayed. The GP can then select the specialist for the referral as represented by step 126.

The calculation of the suitability ranking for each specialist may initially be based on the numerical values assigned to the one or more specialties, geographical location, interests and availability/commitment variables described above. When the program is initially used, no previous referrals will have been made and therefore no data in this regard is available. However, as the system is used, sufficient data will accumulate and this variable will be factored into the calculation as described above.

The other aforementioned variables relating to the specialist, such as foreign language capabilities, billing information, proximity to other providers such as hospitals and alternative geographical locations such as regional, capital city, local or the like, may also be factored into the calculation where applicable. With reference to FIG 5B, quick searches for specialists may be performed on the basis of the doctor's locality, the patient's locality or the relevant city, suburb or other specified geographical area. This is an alternative method of incorporating the variable of geographical limitation in the search for a suitable specialist. Selecting one of these quick search options is represented by step 119 in FIG 8 and provides an alternative step to step 116 or step 118.

According to one aspect, the present invention may be considered as a dynamic search engine that rapidly identifies the most suitable service provider for a particular application in accordance with desirable service provider characteristics specified by the selector. As the system is used over time more data is accumulated upon which the method determines an accurate selection of the most suitable service provider. The system becomes tailored to the user of the system and the needs of his/her clients/patients/customers as applicable. Prior to submitting a referral to a specialist, the present invention may also display a curriculum vitae or similar training/achievement/career summary containing additional information about the specialists. This would aid the GP in making their selection of a suitable specialist and would enable a GP to briefly describe the background of a specialist to the patient, if the GP was not personally acquainted with the specialist. The information would need to be verified prior to being displayed to protect both the GP and patients from fraudulent or inaccurate claims. Verification may be carried out by the GP or when a specialist registers for inclusion in the system as described above.

Once a specialist has been selected as represented by step 124 in FIG 8, the referral is preferably submitted to the specialist in electronic format by, for example, email. Where private/confidential information forms part of the submission, which will often be the case, the communication may be encrypted using any conventional techniques known in the art, such as PGP. Specific information relating to the referral that should be available to the specialist may be displayed for review by the GP and forwarded to the specialist. This enhances the quality of the referral. As shown in FIG 6, the GP may select whether all, only the latest, specific or no particular information is to be made available to the specialist in the referral.

The GP may assign, for example, a low, medium or high priority to the referral depending on its urgency. If a referral is urgent, the contact details of the specialist may automatically be displayed to enable the GP to efficiently contact the specialist and discuss the case and to ensure the availability of the specialist and the appropriateness of the referral.

In addition to, or as an alternative to an email, the system of the present invention enables the GP to send an electronic communication in the form of an SMS message to a communications device 10 of the specialist regarding the referral. With reference to FIG 10, the SMS message may be automatically generated once the specialist has been selected. The GP may edit the message before sending. Persons skilled in the relevant art will be familiar with the technology required to implement the SMS facility of the present invention.

The SMS message will be stored in an active message bank and the message managed by virtue of the interface shown in the screen shot in FIG 11. This will include monitoring whether the SMS message has been read and/or acknowledged and may form part of the completed referral process shown in FIG 7.

With reference to FIG 9, the system also accommodates nonavailability of specialists. A specialist may specify their replacement or substitute in the event of their absence, the specialty of their replacement, the dates of absence and any other information. These details may be emailed to GPs and automatically incorporated into the system and clearly displayed in relation to that specialist when a search is being conducted.

With reference to FIG 12, another aspect of the present invention is an on-line rostering facility for service providers. Service providers can enter their times of availability via the communications network 6, which are stored in a database associated with the server 8. For example, a group of medical specialists in a hospital may enter their availability for specific duties over a specified period to ensure that a specific service is always available. This period may be cyclic such that the roster is repeated e.g. every week, every month. The roster will be interrogated when a referral is being made to ensure that the specialist is available. This is used in conjunction with the non-availability feature represented in FIG 9. This procedure will now be described with reference to FIG 13.

In step 126, a specialist is selected by the GP and in step 128, the electronic communication in the form of an email or SMS message is sent to the server 8 shown in FIG 1. In step 130, the rostering system is interrogated to check whether the specialist is available. With reference to step 132, if the specialist is available the electronic communication is forwarded to that specialist as represented by step 134. If the specialist is not available the non-availability facility is interrogated to check whether a locum has been specified by the absent specialist, as represented by step 136. If so, this fact is referred to the GP in step 138 to provide the option for the GP to forward the referral to the locum in step 140. Alternatively, if the GP does not wish to send the referral to the specified locum, the GP may instead select an alternative specialist at step 126. If a locum is not specified, the roster is again interrogated step 142 to check whether a replacement for the absent specialist is rostered on. If so, this fact is referred to the GP in step 144 to provide the option for the GP to forward the referral to the rostered replacement specialist in step 146. If a replacement specialist is not rostered on, the GP may select another specialist at step 126.

Once a referral is electronically submitted to the specialist, a confirmation copy in hard format may be printed and given to the patient to assist them in arranging an appointment with the specialist. The confirmation copy may comprise information such as name and contact details of the specialist, preferred and alternative clinic addresses and hours of business, a map showing the location of the clinic, billing information and any additional information pertinent to the specific problem. The confirmation copy may also specify that a copy of the referral has been sent to the specialist.

The electronic referral to the specialist will include an automatic reply function to indicate that the referral has been safely received. The time of the reply may be stored in a database of the system. For urgent referrals that have not been opened within a specified time frame, such as two working days, an automatic reminder will be displayed within the GP's system. The GP can then follow up the referral to ensure that the specialist is available and the GP can re-direct the referral if necessary.

The system comprises a list of active referrals from which patients are removed once a referral is complete. Hence, outstanding referrals may easily be identified by the GP. After a specified time, selectable by the GP, optionally on a case-by-case basis, reminders may be automatically sent electronically to the specialist to investigate why a referral has not yet been completed. Practice management programs currently in common usage may be linked to the present invention by means familiar to those skilled in the relevant art to automate this process.

New service providers may register to be added to the database of service providers as stated above. If the system has only been running for a short time when a new provider joins, they will not be significantly disadvantaged by the fact that they do not yet have any completed referrals against their name. However, if a new provider joins when the system has been running for a longer period, other service providers may have accumulated many completed referrals, thus significantly weighting this variable to the disadvantage of newly joined service providers.

To overcome this bias and to ensure new service providers gain sufficient exposure, various adjustments to the weighting calculation may be made. A new service provider may be assigned an average referral number for a temporary period based on the total numbers of referrals and service providers. Alternatively, a notional rank order number may be assigned to a new service provider, dependent on the number of service providers already registered. For example, a new provider may be assigned a notional rank order number of 5 providing there are at least 5 "old" service providers registered. A further and preferred alternative would be to limit the maximum benefit any service provider can gain from their previous referrals. For example, the maximum number of referrals may be limited to 10, such that any specialists with greater than this number of referrals does not have their overall weighting unfairly influenced by this variable. Other suitable methods of compensating new service providers may be additionally or alternatively adopted.

With reference to steps 122 and 124 in FIG 8, it will be appreciated that such limitations to and compensations for weighting factors will increase the complexity of the calculation executed to calculate an overall value and rank for the service providers.

One suitable application that may be utilised for the present invention is Microsoft Access, although any other suitable, commercially available application may be used. The present invention may be used on a PC or laptop computer connected to a communications network, a personal digital assistant (PDA), handheld PC or other communications device. It will be appreciated that a microprocessor at the core of such devices or in the server 8 will be responsible for performing the calculations necessary to attribute weightings, generate the suitability values for the service providers and for performing such tasks as computing time periods and the like.

The present invention addresses the prior art problems in that unfair bias caused by, for example, alphabetical listing is avoided. All service providers are considered as potentially suitable, irrespective of, for example, their geographical location. However, the present invention goes further in that numerous characteristics of the service provider and their business are accurately considered in assessing their suitability for a particular purpose. Service providers' skills and capabilities as well as information relating to their facilities and performance history are taken into account. The present invention is updated with each selection of a service provider, which ensures that information is always current. This is of particular importance in many fields, especially those of service providers in the medical professions. Furthermore, the system enables accurate tracking of the engagement of service providers to monitor the completion of the service and the time frame in which it was completed.

Another application of the present invention other than the medical example described herein may be, for example, the ranking and selection of machine repairers. A customer with a defective appliance under warranty may seek the services of an approved repairer. Factors such as geographical locations of the customer and the service provider, whether that service provider is on call at that time, specialist skills, historical response times and other variables may be assessed and weightings applied thereto in order to generate a ranking of most suitable service providers.

Throughout the specification the aim has been to describe the invention without limiting the invention to any one embodiment or specific collection of features. Persons skilled in the relevant art may realize variations from the specific embodiments that will nonetheless fall within the scope of the invention.

Claims

CLAIMS 1. A method of appointing a service provider according to a calculated suitability of the service provider for providing their service to an entity, said method including: storing elements of information relating at least to a plurality of service providers; assigning a weighting to at least one of said elements of information for each said service provider; specifying at least one criterion that a service provider suitable for providing their service to said entity desirably possesses; calculating a suitability value for a plurality of service providers based on at least one of said weightings and on said at least one criterion; displaying a ranking of said service providers in order of their suitability, the suitability of each service provider being dependent on said calculated suitability values; and selecting one of said ranked service providers to provide their service.
2. The method of claim 1 further including selecting a preferred group of service providers from a plurality of groups of service providers, said suitability values being calculated for service providers in the preferred group.
3. The method of claim 1 further including transmitting a communication to the selected service provider to engage the services of the selected service provider.
4. The method of claim 3, wherein the communication is transmitted to the service provider electronically via a communication network.
5. The method of claim 3, wherein the communication includes information relating to one or more of: the entity, the purpose for which the service provider has been selected.
6. The method of claim 3, wherein the communication is encrypted.
7. The method of claim 3, wherein the communication includes a priority indicator indicative of the urgency with which the service is required.
8. The method of claim 3, wherein the communication is an email.
9. The method of claim 3, wherein the communication is an SMS message.
10. The method of claim 1 further including incrementing the weighting of at least one of said elements of information in response to confirmation from the service provider that their service has been at least partially provided to the entity.
11. The method of claim 1 further including incrementing the weighting of at least one of said elements of information in response to confirmation from the service provider that their service has been completely provided to the entity.
12. The method of claim 1 , further including generating an alert if a service provider does not provide confirmation within a preset time period that their service has been provided.
13. The method of claim 3, further including generating an alert if the selected service provider does not acknowledge receipt of said communication within a preset time period.
14. The method of claim 1 , wherein the elements of information relating to the service providers include one or more of: contact details, geographical location, availability, hours of business, field of expertise, sub-fields of expertise, limitations, additional skills, facilities associated with the service provider's business, number of times previously selected, waiting times, billing information.
15. The method of claim 1 , further including storing elements of information relating to one or more entities that require the services of the service providers.
16. The method of claim 15, wherein the elements of information relating to entities includes one or more of: contact details, personal information, geographical location, limitations, language requirements, information relating to both the entity and the service(s) provided by the service providers.
17. The method of claim 1 , wherein the at least one criterion that a suitable service provider desirably possesses includes elements of information relating to the one or more entities.
18. The method of claim 1 further including specifying elements of information relating to the service providers that are or are not to be used for the calculation of the suitability value for each service provider.
19. The method of claim 1 further including, prior to calculating suitability values for service providers, excluding unsuitable service providers.
20. The method of claim 19, wherein exclusion of unsuitable service providers is carried out automatically on the basis of one or more specified criteria not being satisfied by the service provider.
21. The method of claim 19, wherein exclusion of unsuitable service providers is carried out by specifying a preferred group of service providers.
22. The method of claim 19, wherein exclusion of unsuitable service providers is carried out by specifying a geographical limitation in relation to one of: a service provider, an entity requiring the services of the service provider, a selector of the service provider.
23. The method of claim 1 , wherein selecting one of said ranked service providers includes interrogating an availability facility to check whether the service provider is available to provide their service.
24. The method of claim 23, wherein interrogating the availability facility includes interrogating an on line rostering database into which availability times of the service providers have been entered.
25. The method of claim 25, wherein if a service provider is unavailable an interrogation is carried out to verify whether the service provider has specified a replacement service provider.
26. The method of claim 25, wherein a selector of the service provider is given an opportunity to verify the suitability of any specified replacement service provider.
27. A service provider selection and management system comprising: at least one selector interface, at least one service provider interface and a server each coupled to a communications network; storage means accessible at least by said selector interface and said server for storing elements of information relating at least to a plurality of service providers; a microprocessor for: assigning a weighting to at least one of said elements of information for each said service provider; and calculating a suitability value for each service provider based on at least one of said weightings and on at least one criterion specified by the selector that a service provider desirably possesses; display means for displaying a ranking of said service providers in order of their suitability, the suitability of each service provider being dependent on said calculated suitability values; and a transmitter for sending a communication to appoint one of said ranked service providers.
28. The system of claim 27, wherein the storage means also stores elements of information relating to one or more entities requiring the services of the service providers.
29. The system of claim 27, further comprising a receiver for receiving one or more communications from a service provider.
30. The system of claim 27, wherein said microprocessor detects when a communication from a service provider has not been received within a preset time period.
31. The system of claim 27, wherein the selector interface and the service provider interface are one of: a computer, a mobile phone, PDA, handheld PC.
Dated this Eleventh day of October 2002
STUDICO PTY LTD
By their Patent Attorneys
FISHER ADAMS KELLY
PCT/AU2002/001386 2001-10-12 2002-10-11 Service provider selection and management system and method WO2003032192A1 (en)

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