If you’re a primary care doctor, there are some things that you just can’t handle. Or at least would rather you patient be seen by someone who has more experience in the problem area. That’s where specialists come in. And it’s likely that you patients will need you to refer them to that specialist. Why is that important? Well, I’m sure you know but your patients might not be aware.

You know what your limits are as a doctor. Your main concern should be your patient’s health so when you’re faced with a difficult case, you need to evaluate whether you have the ability to treat them effectively. If you think they need more testing than you can provide or need more of an expert opinion, that’s when you can send them off to someone who knows a little bit more about their condition. Referring to a specialist could be the best thing for your patient, especially if you’re stumped.

Some patients may be the type that like to refer themselves to specialists for all of their problems, rather than talking it over with a primary care physician, whose main concern is the big picture, the whole body. Your goal as a primary care doctor is to take into account anything that could be causing symptoms, while specialists only look at their fields. For instance, you may have a patient with chest pains who decides to go visit a cardiologist without consulting you. But the cause of the chest pains could be pulmonary, gastro, or any number of other origin points. You as the primary care doctor can determine where the pain is coming from and THEN evaluate which specialist may be best, if any is needed. This saves your patients from countless trips and tests from a specialist that may or may not be necessary and gives then a starting point rather than a blind glance at the specialist page. Also, in many cases, insurance will only pay for a specialist (or portions of a specialist) if a referral is made by a primary care doctor.

When referring your patient, take into account who the best in the field is. You might want to send them to someone you know, and if that’s the top physician, then that’s perfect. Take into account their symptoms and previous issue to determine who the best specialist for this patient is.

As a doctor, you want to be able to fix, cure, or help all of your patients and sometimes the best you can do is to send them to someone who really knows their specific health problems.