Referrals and Self-Referrals to an Emergency Department
Sasson Nakar, Shlomo Vinker, Yaacov Or, Mordechai Schadel, Yosi Niego, Gavriel Plotkin
Central District of General Sick Fund and Family Medicine Dept., Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, and Emergency Dept., Kaplan Medical Center, Rehovot (Affiliated with Hebrew University-Hadassah Faculty of Medicine, Jerusalem)
The Israeli health system has been undergoing major changes in recent years. Considerations of cost containment have led sick funds to open new out-of-hours services in the community to reduce visits to hospital emergency departments.
Referred and self-referred visits to our emergency department during a 1-month period were studied. Patients after trauma or whose visits resulted in hospitalization were excluded. Of the 505 encounters 56.3% were of women; the average age was 52.5±19.3 years (range 18-96). 57.4% visits were during working hours of primary care clinics ("working hours"), while the others were "out-of-hours" visits. Only 52.7% had a referral letter, 75% of them from the family physician. The quality of the handwriting in 46% was good, in 44% fair and the remaining 10% were illegible. A specific clinical question was asked in only 16% of the letters. A third of "working-hours" visits were self- referrals, rising to 64% in "out-of-hours" visits (p<0.001).
The most common diagnoses in discharge letters were: chest or abdominal pain, asthma, back pain, headache, nephrolithiasis and upper respiratory tract infection. The rate of self-referrals was relatively high throughout the day. Cost-containment efforts did not seem to eliminate self-referrals with "primary care" problems. The quality of referral letters should be improved both with regard to format and content.