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What are referrals?

A referral is a written order from a primary care physician arranging for a patient to see a specialist for a specific medical service. Referrals often serve as a vital component in a patient’s care journey, ensuring they receive the right healthcare services from the right people at the right time.

Referrals are also required by most health insurance companies for coverage to be applied for a visit to or service from a specialist. A lack of a referral, or having an incomplete referral, could result in costs being passed on directly to a patient.

Why are referrals important in healthcare?

A referral provides a specialist about a patient and their condition so that they:

  • Don’t have to ask the patient so many questions
  • Have complete awareness of their medical history
  • Know precisely what they are being asked to diagnose or treat

When receiving a referral, it will generally include the patient’s relevant clinical information, the date of the referral, and the referring practitioner’s signature. This way, the referred specialist can track the types of physicians and the types of patients being sent to their office.

Referrals are important to many specialists rely because they rely on referrals as a primary way to increase patient volumes. Because inaccurate or lost referrals can result in missed opportunities to gain more patients, tracking and understanding referrals is a critical part of many healthcare providers’ strategies.