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6 Features of a Perfect GP Referral Letter

By: Dinethra Menon - MedicalSearch Writer
03 November, 2014

A GP referral letter can provide a vital link in the exchange of patient care to another treating doctor. The letter should be an accurate, confidential and contemporaneous handover of clinical information.

Referral letters can also assist GPs during medico-legal proceedings by providing a historical record. An accurate referral letter can provide open communication and assistance in diagnosis.

Ensure your referral letters are ticking all the right boxes with these six important features to remember. 

Make it timely

Consider timely receipt of your referral letter, either prior to or at the time of your patient's appointment. It pays not to rely on your patient to bring the referral letter to their appointment.

If electronic transfer of information is used, ensure it is secure and password protected for the recipient. Unless your patient has provided informed consent, referral letters forwarded by email may need to be encrypted to avoid a breach of patient confidentiality.

RACGP general practices standards for information security of patient information 

Informative content

Content is the most valuable aspect of a referral letter, yet is often the least informative.  Studies have found specialists consider a patient's medical history the most important aspect of referral letters however this was least likely to be included. Include content such as explanation for referral, current medications, social history, allergies, clinical findings, test results, and details of prior treatment.

Read more from the RACGP standards of referral documents for general practices 

Accurate patient identification

Correct identification of patients on the referral letter ensures the right patient receives the right treatment. Items to include can be your patient's name, address, date of birth, gender and patient record number (where it exists). Unique patient identifiers can facilitate accurate and secure transfer of patient health information.

Consider adopting eHealth records for your practice through National eHealth Transition Authority (NEHTA) 

Clear structure

If you send referral letters regularly, you may consider a content template and format prompt sheet. Not only can this save time, it can also help to guide and structure your content improving readability, giving the treating doctor a clear background. Consider the use of headings that allow the recipient to easily identify select information. 

Legible handwriting or typed

Unfortunately doctors can be notorious for their bad handwriting. A recent study found doctors preferred structured, computer-generated letters to unstructured, dictated letters. The number of typed referrals has improved with most doctors preferring not to handwrite letters to improve legibility. Medicare requires that all referral letters are signed and dated by the referring practitioner along with their provider number.

Read more from the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Medicare requirements for referrals 

Keep copies of referrals

After your referral letter has been typed and sent, keep copies for your patient file, your patient and for referral. Keeping your files up-to-date can assist with ongoing patient management.

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Twanny Farrugia | Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 2:53 PM
Dear Sir/Madam As a chronically ill, legally blind patient who often have my GP write referral letters to various specialists, I fully agree with the above except for one point. The article states "Consider timely receipt ....s appointment. It pays not to rely on your patient to bring" I disagree that the patient should be aware of the contents of that referral as on a number of occasions my GP accidentally provided incorrect medical history. Fortunately for me as my GP and I have a great relationship, he always ensure I know the contents and we often discuss them and therefore always had an opportunity to discuss with my GP the reason behind why he wrote the contents he did. Often again he will correct it. Unfortunately though not all patients have the great relationship I have with my GP and therefore errors can be accidentally made if the patient isn't aware of h/her medical record being referred. Many thanks Regards Twanny