Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Improving care: a study of orthopaedic outpatient referrals.

British Medical Journal 1991; 302 doi: (Published 11 May 1991) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1991;302:1124
  1. M O Roland,
  2. R W Porter,
  3. J G Matthews,
  4. J F Redden,
  5. G W Simonds,
  6. B Bewley
  1. Cambridge University School of Clinical Medicine, Addenbrooke's Hospital.


    OBJECTIVE--To identify aspects of outpatient referral in which general practitioners', consultants', and patients' satisfaction could be improved. DESIGN--Questionnaire survey of general practitioners, consultant orthopaedic surgeons, and patients referred to an orthopaedic clinic. SETTING--Orthopaedic clinic, Doncaster Royal Infirmary. SUBJECTS--628 consecutive patients booked into the orthopaedic clinic. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Views of the general practitioners as recorded both when the referral letter was received and again after the patient had been seen, views of the consultants as recorded at the time of the clinic attendance, and views of the patients as recorded immediately after the clinic visit and some time later. RESULTS--Consultants rated 213 of 449 referrals (42.7%) as possibly or definitely inappropriate, though 373 of 451 patients (82.7%) reported that they were helped by seeing the consultant. Targets for possible improvement included information to general practitioners about available services, communication between general practitioners and consultants, and administrative arrangements in clinics. Long waiting times were a problem, and it seemed that these might be reduced if general practitioners could provide more advice on non-surgical management. Some general practitioners stated that they would value easier telephone access to consultants for management advice. It was considered that an alternative source of management advice on musculoskeletal problems might enable more effective use to be made of specialist orthopaedic resources. Conclusion--A survey of patients' and doctors' views of referrals may be used to identify aspects in which the delivery of care could be made more efficient. Developing agreed referral guidelines might help general practitioners to make more effective use of hospital services.