Background: Coordination between care providers of different disciplines is essential to improve the quality of care, in particular for patients with chronic diseases. The way in which general practitioners (GP's) and medical specialists interact has important implications for any healthcare system in which the GP plays the role of gatekeeper to specialist care. Patient experiences and preferences have proven to be increasingly important in discussing healthcare policy. The Dutch government initiated the development of a special website with information for patients on performance indicators of hospitals as well as information on illness or treatment.In the present study we focus on the transition of care at the primary - secondary interface with reference to the impact of patients' ability to make choices about their secondary care providers. The purpose of this study is to (a) explore experiences and preferences of patients regarding the transition between primary and secondary care, (b) study informational resources on illness/treatment desired by patients and (c) determine how information supplied could make it easier for the patient to choose between different options for care (hospital or specialist).
Methods: We conducted a qualitative study using semi-structured focus group interviews among 71 patients referred for various indications in the north and west of The Netherlands.
Results: Patients find it important that they do not have to wait, that they are taken seriously, and receive adequate and individually relevant information. A lack of continuity from secondary to primary care was experienced. The patient's desire for free choice of type of care did not arise in any of the focus groups.
Conclusion: Hospital discharge information needs to be improved. The interval between discharge from specialist care and the report of the specialist to the GP might be a suitable performance indicator in healthcare. Patients want to receive information, tailored to their own situation. The need for information, however, is quite variable. Patients do not feel strongly about self-chosen healthcare, contrary to what administrators presently believe.