Physician Referrals Mounting, and Costs Too?

Feb 01, 2012

The percentage and absolute number of ambulatory physician office visits resulting in referrals to other physicians has grown substantially in the United States, according to researchers in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School.

The percentage and absolute number of ambulatory physician office visits resulting in referrals to other physicians has grown substantially in the United States, according to researchers in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. Barnett and associates1 analyzed nationally representative cross-sections of ambulatory patient visits in the United States. The main outcome measures were survey-weighted estimates of the total number and percentage of visits resulting in a referral to another physician across several patient and physician characteristics.

From 1999 to 2009, the probability that an ambulatory visit to a physician would result in a referral to another physician jumped from 4.8% to 9.3%, a 94% increase. The absolute number of visits resulting in a physician referral increased 159% nationally, from 41 million to 105 million. Changes in referral rates varied according to the principal symptoms accounting for patients’ visits; significant increases were noted for visits to primary care physicians from patients with cardiovascular, GI, orthopedic, dermatologic, and ear/nose/throat symptoms. The authors noted that more research is needed to understand the contribution of rising referral rates to costs of care.

References:

References

1. Barnett ML, Song Z, Landon BE. Trends in physician referrals in the United States, 1999-2009. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172:163-170.