Navigating the Referral Process

Referrals to specialists are a part of a healthy medical practice. Clinical circumstances usually dictate when referral is appropriate. Successfully managing the referral process can make your practice more efficient and ultimately provide better care for your patients. The key to the referral process is communication between you, your patient, and the specialist.

You can establish appropriate patient expectations by discussing the reasons for referral with your patient. Consider explaining to your patient what they can anticipate from the specialist and encourage them to call your office with questions throughout the process. Many physicians feel they empower their patients to take more responsibility for their own healthcare when they provide test results or instructions for the patient to take with them to their appointment at the specialist’s office. Including the patient in this process can be highly effective, depending on the patient and the particular situation. Physicians are wise to create a comprehensive medical record, documenting not only the rationale for referral, but also the fact that they have discussed the referral and answered any questions of the patient concerning the same.

Developing a standard practice to communicate with and refer patients to the specialist can also be helpful. Some practices prefer a letter sent to the consultant. Others use a standard form which indicates the reason for referral and requests a report back to the primary physician within a specified timeframe. Setting out the specific issue or concern you wish to be addressed often helps set the consultant’s expectations and defines how and when they will report back to you.

From time to time, specialists will fail to respond as quickly as you would like. To avoid continuity of care issues, it is important to develop a tickler system so that you know when you have not yet heard back from a referral. Often times, a simple phone call to the practitioner will prompt results.

Developing a standard method of documenting, communicating, and tracking throughout the referral process can boost your practice’s efficiency, improve patient care and increase patient satisfaction.

Would you like the information on this web page in a printable form? If so, click here to view the Navigating the Referral Process PDF document.