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Quality and continuity of information between primary care physicians and rheumatologists

Wong J, Tu K, Bernatsky S, Jaakkimainen L, Thorne JC, Ahluwalia V, Paterson JM, Widdifield J. BMC Rheumatol. 2019; 3:1. Epub 2019 May 24. DOI: 10.1186/s41927-019-0067-6.


Background — Good communication is central to a high-quality consultation process. We assessed the quality of referral information from primary care physicians (PCPs) to rheumatologists and the quality and timeliness of consultation letters from rheumatologists back to PCPs.

Methods — We sampled referral letters between 2000 and 2013 from 168 PCPs and performed a retrospective chart review of 2430 patients referred to 146 rheumatologists. We assessed the completeness and timeliness of referral and consultation letters.

Results — Osteoarthritis (n = 787, 32%) and systemic inflammatory rheumatic diseases (n = 745, 31%) comprised the top reasons for referral. Only 55% of referral letters summarized the patients' medical history. Referral letters provided some details of diagnostic tests (51% labs, 34% imaging) but there was underreporting of this information on referral letters. Almost all referral letters (92%) contained details of at least one patient symptom, with the most common complaint being joint pain (54%). Only half of all referral letters provided symptom duration. The PCP only stressed an urgent consultation among 211 patients (9%). Overall, 69% of consultation letters were returned to PCPs within 30 days of consultation visit.

Conclusion — We found that basic items necessary for appropriate triage, including a description of symptoms or other relevant history and results of investigations were often lacking in referral letters. The delay of receipt of consultation letters may further represent a lost opportunity for coordination and continuity of care, and may affect the quality of care patients receive.

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