Ever Wonder How Doctors Make Referrals?

After expertise, picks may be based on patient word-of-mouth or availability, study finds

FRIDAY, Sept. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Primary care and specialist physicians use different criteria when deciding to refer a patient to another doctor, a new study finds.

The web-based survey of 616 physicians found that after clinical expertise, primary care doctors consider issues such as patient access or doctor-to-doctor communication, while specialists tend to base their decisions on their other patients' experiences with the intended doctor.

Two-thirds of referrals by primary care physicians and half of referrals by specialists were made within their professional network.

The study by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center was published online Sept. 16 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Most previous research into the patient referral process has focused on primary care physicians as the sole source for referrals. But this study shows that specialist physicians also influence the mix of physicians patients see, the researchers said.

"This study is the first to explore differences in the referral decisions between primary care and specialist physicians. Our findings suggest that interventions to influence referral practices will need to be tailored by specialty," they concluded in a journal news release.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers advice for choosing quality health care.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: Journal of General Internal Medicine, news release, Sept. 19, 2011

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