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Intern Med J. 2005 Aug;35(8):491-6.

Part II. General practitioner-specialist referral process.

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Department of General Practice, School of Primary Health Care, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


This is the second of two articles that explore the general practitioner (GP)-specialist relationship. In this article, we explore the nature of the referral process, beginning with referrals frequently made by GPs in Australia and reasons for referral to specialists. In Australia, GPs commonly refer patients to specialists, particularly orthopaedic surgeons, ophthalmologists, surgeons and gynaecologists for a variety of reasons, including diagnosis or investigation, treatment and reassurance (reassurance for themselves as well as reassurance for the patient). GPs will choose a specialist after considering a variety of factors, such as the specialist's medical skill, their previous experience with the specialist, the quality of communication between them, office location and patient preferences. The referral is generally made by telephone or by letter, the latter of which is known to vary significantly in content and quality. The specialist, GP and patient expectations of the referral and the consultation process are also described. Specialists expect the GP to provide information about the problem to be addressed and adequate patient history, GPs expect a clear response regarding diagnosis and management as well as justification for the course of action, and patients expect clear communication and explanation of the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up requirements. When these expectations remain unmet, GPs, specialists and patients end up dissatisfied with the referral process.

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