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Who goes where? A prospective study of referral patterns within a newly established primary care team

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Since the introduction of primary care teams, referral patterns of General Practitioners (GPs) in Ireland have not been studied.


To study the referral patterns of GPs within a primary care team (PCT) to allied health care professionals in a PCT and to secondary care. To identify indirect referral pathways. To study variation in individual GP referral patterns.


Questionnaire based survey. Statistical analysis was carried out using Epi Info version 3.5.1.


Of 3,166 consultations, 2,841 (89.7%) were dealt with by the GP and required no referral, 107 (3.4%) were referred within the PCT, and 218 (6.9%) were referred elsewhere. Therefore, 93.1% of consultations were managed in primary care alone. Ninety percent of GPs refer patients to the PCT. Indirect referrals constituted 17% of all outpatient referrals. Females have significantly higher referral rates than males. Referral rates of GPs in single-handed practices are higher than GPs in group practices.


GPs alone can manage the vast majority of presentations in general practice. Greater GP access to diagnostic and therapeutic interventions may reduce outpatient referrals. GPs in group practices may collectively have greater experience and expertise and therefore can manage more patients in primary care. There is a significant variation in referral rates between both genders.

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Correspondence to E. Coyle.



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Coyle, E., Hanley, K. & Sheerin, J. Who goes where? A prospective study of referral patterns within a newly established primary care team. Ir J Med Sci 180, 845–849 (2011).

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