Design and Implementation of a Physician Coaching Pilot to Promote Value-based Referrals to Specialty Care
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INTRODUCTION: Referral rates to specialty care from primary care physicians vary widely. To address this variability, we developed and pilot tested a peer-to-peer coaching program for primary care physicians. OBJECTIVES: To assess the feasibility and acceptability of the coaching program, which gave physicians access to their individual-level referral data, strategies, and a forum to discuss referral decisions. METHODS: The team designed the program using physician input and a synthesis of the literature on the determinants of referral. We conducted a single-arm observational pilot with eight physicians which made up four dyads, and conducted a qualitative evaluation. RESULTS: Primary reasons for making referrals were clinical uncertainty and patient request. Physicians perceived doctor-to-doctor dialogue enabled mutual learning and a pathway to return joy to the practice of primary care medicine. The program helped physicians become aware of their own referral data, reasons for making referrals, and new strategies to use in their practice. Time constraints caused by large workloads were cited as a barrier both to participating in the pilot and to practicing in ways that optimize referrals. Physicians reported that the program could be sustained and spread if time for mentoring conversations was provided and/or nonfinancial incentives or compensation was offered. CONCLUSION: This physician mentoring program aimed at reducing specialty referral rates is feasible and acceptable in primary care settings. Increasing the appropriateness of referrals has the potential to provide patient-centered care, reduce costs for the system, and improve physician satisfaction.
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