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Specialty Care Referral Patterns for the Underserved: A Study of Community Health Centers on the South Side of Chicago


Little is known about the primary-specialty care interface for underserved patients. In order better to understand inter-physician communication patterns in urban community health centers (CHCs), we conducted a retrospective chart review of specialty care referrals for patients from four South Side Chicago CHCs. Of the 406 identified referrals, 74% (n=301) were made from CHCs that employed referral coordinators and 64% (n=258) were made to affiliated specialists. Chart documentation of whether or not the patient attended the referred specialty visit was present for 43% (n=176) of referrals, and communication from the specialist to the referring clinician was present for 31% (n=127) of referrals. Employing CHC referral coordinators was positively associated with documented specialty clinical communication (odds ratio [OR] 1.8, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.1-3.2). Use of referral coordinators to facilitate care and integrating delivery systems to increase information sharing appear to improve care coordination, but further investigation is warranted.