Do referral-management schemes reduce hospital outpatient attendances? Time-series evaluation of primary care referral management

Jonathan M. S. Cox, Nicholas Steel, Allan B. Clark, Bharathy Kumaravel, Max O. Bachmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Ninety-one per cent of primary care trusts were using some form of referral management in 2009, although evidence for its effectiveness is limited.

Aim: To assess the impact of three referral-management centres (RMCs) and two internal peer-review approaches to referral management on hospital outpatient attendance rates.

Design and setting: A retrospective time-series analysis of 376 000 outpatient attendances over 3 years from 85 practices divided into five groups, with 714 000 registered patients in one English primary care trust.

Method: The age-standardised GP-referred first outpatient monthly attendance rate was calculated for each group from April 2009 to March 2012. This was divided by the equivalent monthly England rate, to derive a rate ratio. Linear regression tested for association between the introduction of referral management and change in the outpatient attendance rate and rate ratio. Annual group budgets for referral management were obtained.

Results: Referral management was not associated with a reduction in the outpatient attendance rate in any group. There was a statistically significant increase in attendance rate in one group (a RMC), which had an increase of 1.05 attendances per 1000 persons per month (95% confidence interval = 0.46 to 1.64; attendance rate ratio increase of 0.07) after adjustment for autocorrelation. Mean annual budgets ranged from £0.55 to £6.23 per registered patient in 2011/2012. RMCs were more expensive (mean annual budget £5.18 per registered patient) than internal peer-review approaches (mean annual budget £0.97 per registered patient).

Conclusion: Referral-management schemes did not reduce outpatient attendance rates. RMCs were more expensive than internal peer review.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e386-e392
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number611
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013

Cite this