Survey: Gaps in Referral Process between US Medical Providers


Practice Fusion survey and infographic reveal challenges in communication between primary care physicians and specialists when making patients referrals; just 16 percent use electronic systems to refer.

Survey Infographic

SAN FRANCISCO – November 17, 2010 – When referring patients, physicians are more likely to call another provider or give patients referral information rather than exchanging details of the patient’s medical history electronically, according to a new survey conducted by Growth Survey Research for Practice Fusion, the free, web-based Electronic Health Record (EHR) company. The survey results highlight the complexity and inefficiency of traditional physician referral workflows, an issue that the national switch to EHR systems aims to improve.

“Poor communication between medical providers can have deadly results for patients,” said Ryan Howard, CEO of Practice Fusion. “Missing patient information contributes to the 195,000 deaths from preventable medical errors each year in the US. Electronic Health Records have the potential to make the referral process much more streamlined. Practice Fusion has taken the first step by offering ChartShare as a way to send vital patient information between providers.”

Key findings:

  • Nearly half of physicians surveyed by Practice Fusion had more than 30 physicians in their referral network with 19 percent reporting having over 100.
  • There are 902 million physician visits a year, nearly half of which are with primary care physicians (PCP), according to the CDC.
  • Approximately 5 percent of primary care visits include a referral to another physician, according to a study in Medical Decision Making. This calculates to an estimated 22 million referrals by PCPs each year.
  • The majority of medical practices surveyed reported that they either call the other provider or gives information to patient when making a referral.
  • Only 16 percent of respondents said they use an electronic process to send patient records for referrals.
  • Providers who use an electronic process to generate referral letters reported significantly more satisfaction with their referral method than those who reported calling other providers.
  • View Practice Fusion’s infographic about referral patterns in US primary care.

Gaps in the exchange of patient information after the referral is issued are also problematic and can lead to increased healthcare costs due to duplication of services. Providers issuing referrals often do not receive feedback about the patient’s visit with a specialist.

Practice Fusion’s ChartShare helps providers ensure accuracy when exchanging key clinical information by automatically generating a detailed letter from the patient’s chart in the EHR. Letters can then be transmitted by electronic fax to any provider in the country at no cost.

Raw results from the physician referral survey are available upon request. Practice Fusion can also offer physician sources who electronically share records with their referral network and health IT experts to discuss the benefits information-driven healthcare.

Survey Methodology

The Practice Fusion physician referral study was conducted by email survey in September 2010 with Growth Survey Research. 183 responses were collected from a national sample of primary care medical providers. 74 percent were primary care/family practitioners, 22 percent pediatricians and 4 percent Ob-Gyn.

About Practice Fusion

Practice Fusion provides a free, web-based Electronic Health Record (EHR) system to primary care physicians. With charting, scheduling, e-prescribing, billing, lab integrations, referral letters, unlimited support and a Personal Health Record for patients, Practice Fusion’s EMR addresses the complex needs of today’s healthcare providers and disrupts the health IT status quo. Practice Fusion is the fastest growing EHR community in the country with more than 40,000 users. For more information on Practice Fusion, please visit practicefusion.com.

Press Contact – Helen Phung