Background and objectives: Physician referral patterns significantly impact costs, quality of care, and access to the health system. This paper examines factors predictive of patient referrals to specialists by primary care residents.
Methods: New adult patients (n=509) were randomly assigned to primary care residents at a university medical center. Patient referrals to specialists were monitored for 1 year of care. Self-reported patient health status, sociodemographic information, number of primary care visits, and physician practice style behaviors were incorporated into statistical analyses predicting specialty referrals.
Results: Patients who were referred to specialty care were significantly older, had poorer physical health, and saw their primary care physicians more often than patients who were not referred. Patients were most frequently referred to surgical specialty clinics. After controlling for physical health status, gender, and age, more frequent visits to a primary care resident physician who had a technically oriented style of care was associated with a greater total number of specialty clinic referrals.
Conclusions: Patient variables, as well as physician practice style, have an important impact on the specialty referral process. Although the appropriateness of referrals was not evaluated, these findings have implications for health care delivery.