Relative Urgency for Referral From Primary Care to Rheumatologists: The Priority Referral Score

Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2011 Feb;63(2):231-9. doi: 10.1002/acr.20366.


Objective: Timely access to rheumatology consultation is fundamental to appropriate and effective management of patients with musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases. Yet, for a variety of reasons, limited and delayed access is commonplace. Moreover, information exchange for referral is often inadequate or poorly communicated. The objective of this work was to improve referral from primary care to rheumatology by formulating and testing a clinically coherent, reliable, and non-diagnosis-dependent Priority Referral Score (PRS).

Methods: Using a deliberative process, a clinical panel of 10 primary care providers (PCPs) and rheumatology specialists reviewed clinical case scenarios and engaged in a highly iterative process to develop criteria, definitions, and weights for the PRS, a linear 100-point scale to rate the relative urgency of referral. Following tool formulation, clinicians uninvolved with the process tested the PRS against their clinical judgment.

Results: The PRS comprises 8 criteria, with 2-4 levels for each criterion, and each having a weight generated through conjoint analysis, which forced choices around the comparative urgency of all of the criteria and levels. The PRS showed a strong correlation between clinical rankings of rheumatologists and PCPs in both the deliberative panel, and the physicians subsequently involved in the testing of the PRS.

Conclusion: No standardized priority-setting criteria are available for the full range of primary care referrals to rheumatologists. The PRS had face value with panelists and provided acceptable interrater and intrarater reliability when tested with other rheumatologists and PCPs. Pilot testing with other clinicians and in other settings is justified and prerequisite to use in clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physicians, Primary Care*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Rheumatic Diseases / therapy*
  • Rheumatology*