“The specialist will see you now”

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Have you noticed that your doctor has been referring you to a specialist more often then diagnosing and treating you in their office? Well, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine the likelihood that a doctor refers a patient to a specialist has doubled from 1999-2009. This means that the estimated number of visits that resulted in a referral jumped from 40.6 million to 105 million. The New York Times recently addressed this issue and attributed it to the rising cost of medical care in their article “Doctors Refer More Patients to Specialists”.  Researchers state “This evolution in care patterns may be playing a role in the rising trajectory of health care spending in the U.S., as referrals to specialists may lead to increased use of higher-cost services,”. This is especially true in cases where the referral requires expensive tests and labs that provide little benefit to the actual care of the patient. 

With medicine becoming more focused and detailed “medicine is becoming increasingly technologically sophisticated”.  Part of the problem related to this increase in referral rates is that most serious medical conditions cannot be discussed within the standard 15-minute doctor appointment. More research still needs to be done to analyze just how doctors make use of and when it is appropriate for a primary care doctor to make a referral. 

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