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Primary Care Physicians and Specialists Referral Gap Means Marketing Problems

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
Cans on String

Failure to Communicate

The numbers are an eye-opener: Two-thirds of primary care physicians say they regularly send patient referral information to specialists, but only one-third of specialists report receiving it.

Clearly there’s a communications disconnect, according to a national study published this month in Archives of Internal Medicine. The study did not directly address the marketing implications of this failure to communicate, but practices, hospitals and other referral-reliant providers will understand the negative consequences for marketing as well as quality of care.

The downside for patient care, researchers found, is physicians who did not receive timely communication regarding referrals and consultations were more likely to report that their ability to provide high-quality care was threatened. There’s nothing good about that from a marketing or professional reputation perspective, and it implies a broken (or perhaps non-existent) referral bridge.

Where would you find yourself in these findings? Data, collected from over 4,700 practicing physicians, indicates that “69.3 percent of primary care physicians (PCPs) reported regularly—“always” or “most of the time”—sending a patient’s history and the reason for the referral to the specialist, but only 34.8 percent of specialists said they regularly receive such information.

On the flip side, 80.6 percent of specialists said they regularly send consultation results to the referring PCP, but only 62.2 percent of PCPs said they received such information, the study found.”

Fortunately, there’s good news here for healthcare marketing and communications professionals who can help close the gap between primary care and specialist physicians. “For both PCPs and specialists, having adequate time to spend with patients during an office visit was far and away the most important factor in whether physicians were more likely to report sending and receiving information about patient referrals and consultations,” the study found.

Other factors include practice supports for care management, specifically whether physicians received feedback reports on the quality of care for their patients, and using health information technology.

The study data is new, but it quantifies an old problem that we’ve seen hundreds of times, particularly in practice, hospital and other clinical situations where professional referrals are the primary business stream.

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