The sole reason you visit a doctor is because you expect answers for the symptoms you have been having, and to be handed a clear diagnosis. However, you find that the process isn’t always as simple as visiting a doctor and being handed treatment. What if it involved visiting another doctor before you could be diagnosed clearly? So… Why did your doctor refer you to another specialist?
It may not be easy to understand why you are being referred to another doctor, when you already did all the tests you were asked to. Let’s take a look at why doctors refer patients to fellow doctors or specialists:
Taking no chances: Your case requires a specialist’s opinion
A simple cough may be all that it is – a simple cough, or it may signal something more serious like tuberculosis or cancer.
This is why based on the preliminary blood or chest x-ray test reports, your primary doctor will refer you to a respiratory specialist who deals with pulmonary diseases. It is in your favour too to hear the diagnosis from the right specialist who has expertise in that field that allows him/her to correctly gauge the severity of your condition and get you started with the treatment.
Your case is not your primary doctor’s expertise
Here’s another situation that might happen. You book an appointment with a gastroenterologist following days of pain in your right abdomen, vomiting and inability to take in food. Upon examination and initial tests, your gastroenterologist determines that it isn’t your GI tract that is suffering; rather it is the liver that is causing your symptoms. The next step? A referral to a hepatologist (doctor that deals with liver conditions) who is better equipped to deal with your condition.
It is possible to misdiagnose your own symptoms and reach out to the wrong specialist. A few tests can clear up the confusion and set you on the right path of recovery. Even within a particular field of medicine like gastroenterology, there are different super-specialisations, with surgeons who hold expertise in a particular type of surgery or treatment.
Today, with increased patient awareness and expectations, it has become an important issue for doctors to take all precautions, even if it may mean taking defensive medical actions.
Referrals serve as a way of confirming diagnoses, getting second opinions and preventing the risk of medical malpractice on account of the primary doctor.
A general practitioner or an intern may very well be able to identify the problem but will ensure that the patient gets the diagnosis from the concerned specialist. Wouldn’t you as a patient like to be given the correct diagnosis by the right specialist? Well, referral is a way of helping you with just that.
When you should worry
Most doctors act in the best interests of the patient but there are some warning signs that your referral may stem from vested interests:
- Your doctor keeps sending you back and forth between himself/herself and another doctor with no conclusive results.
- Your doctor insists on a particular doctor; isn’t open for you to visit elsewhere.
- Your doctor simply writes a referral to keep you happy. If you keep returning with the same information, it could mean your referral was unnecessary.
Thus, while you stay wary of doctor referrals that repeatedly fail to help with your condition, know that for a larger part, consulting another specialist is the correct approach in getting the right diagnosis, uncovering any deeper concern and finding the most effective treatment plan.
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“Referrals,” NetDoctor.co.uk, Dr Roger Henderson, http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/health-services-guide/referrals.htm
“What’s Driving Physician Referral Patterns Today?” Becker’s Healthcare, Molly Gamble, February 14, 2012, http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-physician-relationships/whats-driving-physician-referral-patterns-today.html