Referral processes and wait times in primary care.
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OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the response times to requests for consultations from FPs and the wait times for patient appointments. DESIGN: Mailed invitation to participate in a survey about non-FP specialist consultation requests from April 28 to May 9, 2014. SETTING: Hamilton, Ont. PARTICIPANTS: All active physicians with community practices from the Department of Family Medicine at St Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton and Hamilton Health Sciences. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: All non-FP specialist consultation requests for a 2-week period. RESULTS: Thirty-four practices (9.6% response rate) collected data on 816 consultation requests. Requests for referrals were most commonly made to the following 5 specialties: dermatology, surgery, gastroenterology, orthopedics, and obstetrics and gynecology. Overall, 36.4% of the requests for consultation received no response from the non-FP specialist's office by the end of the follow-up period. The mean wait time for a patient appointment was 60.1 days (range 23.3 to 168.5 days). Five specialties had particularly lengthy wait times of 105.9 to 168.5 days. CONCLUSION: Allowing 5 to 7 weeks for a response from a non-FP specialist, there was still a 36.4% nonresponse rate (similar to a pilot survey administered in 2010). Patient and physician frustration is certainly heightened and more office time and energy is expended when no acknowledgment of a referral is received within 7 weeks. This gives our community wait times much longer than those reported by any of the national bodies.
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