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When and how to refer patients to a fellow pharmacist or physician

Pharmacists, and Doctors love to see patients come and hate to see them go. Patient retention aside, there are many reasons it can be beneficial to offer a doctor referral.

Referring a patient to another provider is a common practice that helps ensure patients receive the care they need. Referrals can sometimes be ideal — or even necessary — to smooth out the overall patient experience and reduce care gaps.

A pharmacist or doctor might choose to refer patients for a variety of reasons.

How do pharmacists and doctors know when it is best to refer a patient? Read on for a few considerations.

When doctors should consider a patient referral
1. When they struggle to make a diagnosis:
There will be times when you won’t be able to determine how to best help a patient. Don’t stress because there are other physicians out there that can help. This allows the patient to get the answers they desire in the most efficient way. Consider referring your patient if you find yourself in this situation.

If you are the patient’s primary care physician, enhance communication with the other provider, so you may follow up with your patient once they receive a diagnosis. Depending on the circumstance, you will remain part of your patients’ long term care plan. Keeping open dialogue with your patient and the doctor you referred them to enhances care outcomes and patient satisfaction.

2. When they want a specialist’s opinion:
A specialist has additional expertise in the branch of medicine they specialized in, and some doctors even further specialize in specific conditions or types of treatments. Doctors often will refer patients to a specialist when they’ve made a diagnosis that requires specialized care or to help determine a diagnosis. Sometimes a specialist can have a different opinion that might benefit the patient.

If you see that your patient has risk factors, or if you simply want a second opinion to confirm the best course of action, a referral to a specialist might be the way to go. This also won’t hurt your patient retention because you are still involved in the patient’s journey.

3. When their patients want a second opinion:
Sometimes patients will specifically request a second opinion from another physician. According to a recent patient survey, 75 percent of patients report going online to search for a doctor, dentist, or medical condition. The majority of patients are involved in their own care and try their best to understand their options. Some patients need more time or help in navigating difficult healthcare decisions.

Thus, your patients may simply seek a second opinion to help confirm your thoughts or get another option that is right for them.

4. When they know a patient will click better with a fellow physician
Every doctor comes across a patient they don’t see eye-to-eye with every once in a while. You might not gel with certain patients for a variety of reasons, but you should always first try to work through any problems in order to deliver care to the best of your ability.

In a survey, patients said they value a provider who is a good listener above other factors (besides quality care). So if you’re not getting along with your patient, that may also impact your patient satisfaction scores. It may also impact your online reputation if a dissatisfied patient decides to leave a public review.

If nothing is working — if you just can’t get through to them — it might be time to refer the patient to a colleague you think they will better get along with.

5. When they want to improve patient access:
Patient access includes convenience of location, availability of appointments, and the language the doctor speaks. This directly impacts a patient’s ability to get the care they need.

If you find yourself in a situation where it is difficult to communicate with your patient, or you are overbooked and can’t see them in a timely manner, a referral could be the solution.


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