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J Pediatr Orthop. 2012 Oct-Nov;32(7):732-6. doi: 10.1097/BPO.0b013e31826994a4.

How many referrals to a pediatric orthopaedic hospital specialty clinic are primary care problems?

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Department of General Surgery, University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine, University of Missouri School of Medicine, Kansas City, MO, USA.



Many primary care physicians believe that there are too few pediatric orthopaedic specialists available to meet their patients' needs. However, a recent survey by the Practice Management Committee of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America found that new referrals were often for cases that could have been managed by primary care practitioners. We wished to determine how many new referral cases seen by pediatric orthopaedic surgeons are in fact conditions that can be readily managed by a primary care physician should he/she chose to do so.


We prospectively studied all new referrals to our hospital-based orthopaedic clinic during August 2010. Each new referral was evaluated for whether it met the American Board of Pediatrics criteria for being a condition that could be managed by a primary care pediatrician. Each referral was also evaluated for whether it met the American Academy of Pediatrics Surgery Advisory Panel guidelines recommending referral to an orthopaedic specialist, regardless of whether it is for general orthopaedics or pediatric orthopaedics. On the basis of these criteria, we classified conditions as either a condition manageable by primary care physicians or a condition that should be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon or a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon. We used these guidelines not to identify diagnosis that primary care physicians should treat but, rather, to compare the guideline-delineated referrals with the actual referrals our specialty pediatric orthopaedic clinic received over a period of 1 month.


A total of 529 new patient referrals were seen during August 2010. A total of 246 (47%) were considered primary care conditions and 283 (53%) orthopaedic specialty conditions. The most common primary care condition was a nondisplaced phalanx fracture (25/246, 10.1%) and the most common specialty condition was a displaced single-bone upper extremity fracture needing reduction (36/283, 13%). Only 77 (14.6%) of the total cases met the strict American Academy of Pediatrics Surgery Advisory Panel guidelines recommending referral to pediatric orthopaedics, with scoliosis being the most frequent condition. For 38 (7.2%) cases, surgical treatment was required or recommended. Patient age, referral source, or type of insurance did not influence whether the condition was a primary care or a specialty care case. A total of 134 (25%) cases were referred without having an initial diagnosis made by the referring clinician. These patients were more likely to have been referred from a primary care practitioner than from a tertiary care practitioner whether the diagnosis eventually made was considered to be a primary care condition (P=0.03; relative risk, 1.9; 95% confidence interval, 96-3.86).


Almost half of all new referrals to a tertiary pediatric orthopaedic clinic were for conditions considered to be manageable by primary care physicians should they chose to do so.


This has implications for pediatric orthopaedic workforce availability, reimbursement under the Affordable Care Act, and pediatric musculoskeletal training needs for providers of primary care.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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