How physician-peer relationships affect the patient experience: Study

Patients referred to specialists who know their primary care physician may get better care, a study published Jan. 3 in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests. 

Researchers from Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University set out to determine whether physician-peer relationships may motivate improved specialist care. The study involved specialty referrals for 8,655 patients. Researchers compared ratings of specialist care between patients seen by a specialist who trained with their primary care physician in medical school or other programs to ratings from patients with the same PCP who were seen by a specialist with no such physician-peer connection. 

Patient reviews of specialist care were substantially higher when there was a co-training relationship between the specialist and PCP, the findings showed. This was true regardless of whether the primary care physician made the referral. When a PCP and specialist trained together, patient reviews indicated specialists were more friendly and courteous, gave clear explanations, engaged them in shared decision-making and spent more time with them. 

"These findings are consistent with the notion that peer relationships can motivate physicians to deliver improved care," researchers wrote, adding that specialists may aspire to higher standards when they believe their work may be scrutinized or seen by peers. "This study suggests potentially large gains in quality from encouraging and harnessing physician-peer relationships." 

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