Community resources for psychiatric and psychosocial problems. Family physicians' referral patterns in urban Ontario.
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OBJECTIVE: To document the number and pattern of psychiatric and psychosocial referrals to community resources by family physicians (FPs) and to determine whether referral practices correlate with physician variables. DESIGN: Cross-sectional survey of referrals by FPs to 34 key psychiatric and psychosocial community resources identified by a panel of FPs, psychiatric social workers, psychiatric nurses, public health nurses, and the local community information service. SETTING: Regional municipality of 434,000 persons in Ontario. PARTICIPANTS: Twenty-seven of 34 (79%) community agencies identified 261 FPs who made 4487 referrals to participating agencies (range 0 to 65, median 15, mean 17.19 +/- 13.42). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Number of referrals to all agencies; variables, such as physician sex, school of graduation, year of graduation, and certificate status in the College of Family Physicians of Canada, related to referral patterns. RESULTS: Referrals to outpatient psychiatric clinics, support services, and general counseling services accounted for 96% of all referrals. Physicians' average annual referral profile was as follows: 8.6 patients to a support service, 6.3 to an outpatient psychiatric service, 1.6 to a counseling service, and 0.46 to a substance abuse service. Referral profiles of individual physicians varied greatly. Female FPs made fewer referrals than male FPs to support services, but both made similar numbers of referrals to psychiatric, counseling, and substance abuse services. The more recent the year of graduation, the greater the number of referrals to psychiatric (r = 0.158, P = 0.0107) and counseling services (r = 0.137, P = 0.0272) and the higher the fraction of referrals to psychiatric services (r = 0.286, P = 0.0001). CONCLUSIONS: Family physicians in Hamilton-Wentworth made few referrals to psychiatric and psychosocial services. Only physician sex and year of graduation correlated significantly with numbers of referrals made. Recent graduates of both sexes made significantly more referrals to psychiatric clinics and counseling services than their older colleagues.
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