Rural family physician perspectives on communication with urban specialists: a qualitative study

BMJ Open. 2021 May 13;11(5):e043470. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-043470.


Objective: Communication is a key competency for medical education and comprehensive patient care. In rural environments, communication between rural family physicians and urban specialists is an essential pathway for clinical decision making. The aim of this study was to explore rural physicians' perspectives on communication with urban specialists during consultations and referrals.

Setting: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

Participants: This qualitative study involved semistructured, one-on-one interviews with rural family physicians (n=11) with varied career stages, geographical regions, and community sizes.

Results: Four themes specific to communication in rural practice were identified. The themes included: (1) understanding the contexts of rural care; (2) geographical isolation and patient transfer; and (3) respectful discourse; and (4) overcoming communication challenges in referrals and consultations.

Conclusions: Communication between rural family physicians and urban specialists is a critical task in providing care for rural patients. Rural physicians see value in conveying unique aspects of rural clinical practice during communication with urban specialists, including context and the complexities of patient transfers.

Keywords: accident & emergency medicine; primary care; qualitative research; quality in health care; trauma management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Communication
  • Humans
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Physicians, Family*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Specialization*