Referrals - it's all about communication
We often get asked about referrals - this is a confusing topic!
The primary purpose of the referral letter to a specialist (such as myself), is a communication between doctors asking another to be involved.
Importantly, from a patient perspective, referrals also enable Medicare eligible patients to claim a rebate from Medicare for a specialist service provided. With our appointment reminder SMS, we remind our patients about referrals, and encourage a phone call if unsure about whether the referral is still valid. Medicare eligible patients can actually see any specialist they choose without a referral, but they would not be able to claim the Medicare rebate.
How long do referrals last?
Referrals do not last forever! They commence at the time of the first appointment. A GP referral lasts 12 months, and a specialist's referral lasts only 3 months.
GPs can write an indefinite referral, which can be convenient for both patients and GPs. Of course we accept these, but my personal preference is for an annual referral letter. I find contemporaneous information very useful, particularly when I have seen a patient for a few years, this letter can help me keep up-to-date with new medical conditions and exactly which medications are prescribed.
Like any letter, names (and provider numbers) are important
Who is it from? The referral letter must come from a practitioner with their current provider number. Provider numbers are special codes that doctors have according to the location where we are practicing from, and it is not uncommon for specialists to have ten or more! This means that if your GP moves away from a practice location, you need a new referral.
Who is it to? The name that the referral is addressed to does not have to be the doctor who you choose to use the referral for. I am able to see patients who have been referred to other general surgeons, without having to get a new referral.
Has it been used already? If your referral has been used already at another doctor's practice, you will have to obtain another referral to see me.
Referrals from me I frequently write referral letters to my colleagues (most commonly medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, plastic surgeons and endocrinologists) and some patients are referred to multiple specialists. Please remember that my referral will only last for three months, and after that it is the patient's responsibility to get another referral from their GP to claim their rebate. This is important for the other specialist and the GP to be kept in the same loop. Unfortunately, it is also not sustainable time-wise for our practice to provide referrals every three months for each specialist for each patient.
Hopefully this has been helpful. In short, if you are unsure of whether your referral is valid, please contact the office if you have any further questions.