Study: Physicians' Rate of Referrals Nearly Doubles

The rate at which physicians referred patients to another physician — most often a specialist — has nearly doubled from 1999-2009, according to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School assessed changes in the annual rate of referrals to other physicians from physician office visits. The number of visits resulting in another physician referral increased by 159 percent nationally over the 10-year span.

In 1999, physicians sent their patients to other physicians 4.8 percent of the time. In 2009, they referred patients 9.3 percent of the time — a 94 percent increase.

The authors found this rate to be consistent among all subgroups except for slower growth among physicians who had ownership stakes in their practices or those with a majority of income from managed care contracts.

There were significant increases in referrals for patients who visited primary care physicians and had conditions fit for specialists, such as cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, orthopedic, dermatologic and ear/nose/throat symptoms.  

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