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Referral of children with otitis media: do family physicians and pediatricians agree?


Objective — To determine factors influencing family physicians' and pediatricians' decisions to refer children with recurrent acute otitis media (RAOM) and otitis media with effusion (OME) to otolaryngologists for an opinion about tympanostomy tube insertion.

Design — Mailed survey.

Setting — Physicians' practices in Ontario.

Participants — Random sample of 1459 family physicians and all 775 pediatricians in the province.

Main Outcome Measures — Physicians' reports of the influence of 17 factors on decisions to refer (more likely, no influence, less likely to refer) and number of episodes of otitis media, months with effusion, level of hearing loss, or months of continuous antibiotics without improvement prompting referral.

Results — Physicians agreed (> 80% concordance) on six out of 17 factors as indications for referring children with RAOM or OME. Opinions about the importance of other factors varied widely. Family physicians would refer children with otitis media after fewer episodes of illness, fewer months of effusion, lower levels of hearing loss, and fewer months of prophylactic antibiotic therapy than pediatricians (all P < .001). Pediatricians would prescribe continuous antibiotics longer (11.8 weeks) than family physicians (8.9 weeks, P < .0001), which correlated with lower referral thresholds for family physicians.

Conclusion — Family physicians' and pediatricians' self-reported referral practices for surgical opinions on children with otitis media varied considerably. These observations raise questions about the consistency of care for children with otitis media and whether revised clinical guidelines would be helpful.



Mcisaac WJ, Coyte P, Croxford R, Harji S, Feldman W. Can Fam Physician. 2000; 46(9):1780-8.

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