Understanding patients’ experiences of referrals

Key findings

  • Overall, only one in 10 patients surveyed thought their referral was unnecessary and only six per cent were dissatisfied.
  • Some patients didn’t recognise that diagnosis can involve multiple referrals. Occasionally, they felt the service they received from their GP fell short of their expectations, as they didn’t receive a full explanation about why they were being referred and where they were being referred to.
  • Some patients revealed that their symptoms impacted their ability to work, sleep or live a normal life. Experiencing multiple referrals made them feel like they were being bounced around the system and that doctors didn’t understand the full impact of their illness.
  • Many patients didn’t feel comfortable challenging doctors about their referral, even if they classed themselves as assertive in other areas of life.
  • Problematic referrals can impact patients’ lives. Many patients revealed it wasn’t easy to attend multiple appointments and fit them around other commitments.
  • Patients’ opinion of their referral experience doesn’t necessarily correlate with their health outcome.
  • A person’s individual expectations of care and service they receive can affect their referral experience.

Why we commissioned this research

We know from previous research, that unnecessary referrals have increased in recent years. So, we carried out some in-depth research to help us better understand the impact it’s had on patients.

The research explored:

  • patients’ views and experiences of referrals
  • whether a patient had been referred multiple times and if they felt it was necessary
  • the impact of being referred
  • the effects of multiple referrals on certain groups of people.

What did the research involve?

There was a quantitative survey of patients who had been referred between May 2017 and May 2019. Following this, 35 in-depth interviews took place with patients who had a range of experiences. The interviews took place in 2019 either face-to-face or over the phone. Participants were from a range of backgrounds and came from across the UK.

Full report

Download Understanding patients’ experiences of referrals