Patient experience top priority in specialist-to-specialist referrals

When choosing to whom to refer a patient, it goes without saying that doctors prioritize clinical quality, validated by new research from Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Beyond that universal criterion, however, the study revealed that the other factors considered depend largely on whether the referring doctor is a primary care physician (PCP) or a specialist.

Specifically, the online survey of 386 physicians found that most PCPs (66 percent) initiated referrals within their own professional networks, whereas only half of surgical specialists referred to doctors with whom they acknowledged a professional relationship. When drilling down into other factors, physicians overall most frequently cited "my patients have good experiences with this physician" as the most important reason for selecting that physician, reports.

However, patient experience was a much more important driver of referrals for specialists than it was for PCPs. PCPs, on the other hand, more highly valued patient access and good physician-to-physician communication in recommending specialists for their patients. In addition, medical and surgical specialists were also less likely than PCPs to select "shares my medical record system" as a reason to refer.

Although much of the research to date has focused on PCPs as driving the bulk of patient referrals, specialists do have a substantial impact on the mix of physicians a patient sees, according to lead author Michael Barnett and colleagues, whose work appears in the September Journal of General Internal Medicine. Understanding the differences in what drives various specialists to choose one colleague over another will be key in modifying referral patterns that affect healthcare costs and clinical outcomes, the team concluded.

To learn more:
- read the article from
- check out the study abstract from the Journal of General Internal Medicine

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