Referrals of patients by family physicians to consultants: A survey of the Israeli Family Practice Research Network

H. Tabenkin, B. Oren, D. Steinmetz, A. Tamir, E. Kitai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Objective. We aimed to analyse factors influencing referral of patients by primary care physicians to specialist consultants at the beginning of the era of direct access to specialists in Israel. Methods. We carried out a study of referrals by family physicians to specialists over a continuous period of 3 months. Twenty-four certified family physicians filled in a questionnaire detailing referrals during the study period. All patients were referred for consultation to a specialist at regional speciality clinics or hospital out-patient departments. Results. Ten physicians met the study conditions. In 1140 of 10,896 (10.5%) visits, patients were referred to specialist consultants. The percentage of referral ranged from 7.4 to 15.9%. The difference between the physicians with the lowest and highest rates of referral was statistically significant (P < 0.0001). The variance in referral rates was not explained by significant differences in physician or practice variables. The types of specialists to whom the most referrals were made were orthopaedic surgeons, ophthalmologists, dermatologists, ear, nose and throat, general surgeons and plastic surgeons. There was a significant correlation between the type of specialist and the age of the patient. Older patients were referred more frequently to urologists, cardiologists and ophthalmologists, while younger patients were referred more frequently to ear, nose and throat specialists and gynaecologists (P < 0.01). Conclusions. The results of this study can be used as an aid for decision makers in the health services for determining policy. Direct access to some specialties might be appropriate, but not to all. Adoption of a policy based on these findings could lead to reduced health care costs by reducing the burden on hospital emergency rooms. It might also increase patient satisfaction in that the patients will have greater freedom of choice. On the other hand, more appropriate training of family physicians and more extensive self- and peer-quality assurance will increase the primary physician's knowledge and ability to diagnose and treat a broad range of problems and improve the level of care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-164
Number of pages7
JournalFamily Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Access to subspecialties
  • Referrals to consultants


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