Dutch general practitioners' referral of children to specialists: a comparison between 1987 and 2001

H Otters, JC van der Wouden*, FG Schellevis, LWA van Suijlekom-Smit, BW Koes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Background. Although children are-frequently referred to specialists, detailed information on referral patterns of them is scarce. Even less information is available on how referral patterns evolve over time.

Aims: To examine current referral patterns for children aged 0-17 years and compare these with referral patterns reported for 1987.

Design of study: Data were analysed from two national cross sectional surveys, performed in 2001 (91 general practices) and in 1987 (103 general practices).

Setting: Dutch general practice.

Method. All new referrals to specialists were assessed by age, sex, International classification of Primary Care (ICPC) category, specialty referred to, and specific episodes of disease. Referral measures were quantified as new referrals per 1000 person-years and per 100 new episodes, a measure of likelihood of a young person with a specific diagnosis to be referred. Rates in 2001 were compared with those from 1987.

Results: Referral rates decreased from 138 per 1000 person-years in 1987 to 84 per 1000 person-years in 2001. Age differences in referral rates were similar in both surveys. compared with 1987, more boys than girls were referred to specialists. The overall likelihood of a condition being referred decreased from 8.0 per 100 episodes in 1987 to 6.5 per 100 episodes in 2001. Reasons for referral had also changed by 2001, particularly for the ear nose, and throat (ENT) specialist and ophthalmologist Moreover referral rates for acute otitis media, reftactive disorders, and vision problems decreased two to fourfold in 2001.

Conclusion: Presently, Dutch general practitioners tend to manage more health problems themselves and refer less young people to specialists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)848-852
Number of pages5
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number508
Publication statusPublished - Nov-2004


  • referral
  • children
  • general practice
  • CARE

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