Referral Communication

Any project to improve patient care will have to pay attention to how doctors communicate with each other. When I shadowed primary care physicians, I was struck by how few patients could recall exactly what medications they were taking. Since there were discrepancies between the patients’ memory and the electronic medical record, the doctor had to spend considerable time updating the list and tweaking the prescriptions.

We may not be able to train patients to keep better track of their medications, but doctors can certainly control how they control vital information to each other. A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine analyzes data from the Health Tracking Physician Survey to test just that. They found that we still have room for improvement.

Over 63 percent of primary care physicians reported that they “always” or “most of the time” sent background information and the reason for the consultation to the specialist when they referred a patient. Specialists, on the other hand, say that only 34 percent of the time do they receive such information. The discrepancy works in the other direction, too. 80 percent of specialists say they “always” or “most of the time” alert primary care physicians of the results of the consultation, but only 62% of PCPs report receiving them.

Electronic record systems should make it easy for doctors to communicate with each other. Even where the technology is available, doctors should remember to use it.

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