Study: Nearly half of referrals made to dental specialists go unfulfilled

June 26, 2008
On average, specialists could lose $953 to $5,150 per unfulfilled referral.

DELTONA, Florida--A national research study conducted by Kelton Research has found that among the 53 percent of Americans who have been referred to a dental specialist, nearly one in two (46 percent) of these referrals has gone unfulfilled.

Lost and unfulfilled referrals adversely affect patients by leading to larger health concerns and result in lost revenue for specialists, averaging anywhere from $953 to $5,150 every time a patient neglects to follow through on a dental referral.

The study also revealed that younger Americans, ages 18-49, are much more likely to disregard dental referrals than their older counterparts (50 percent vs. 39 percent).

"The survey exposes the source of a fundamental knowledge disconnect between patients needing urgent and specific dental care and the specialist community that can provide that care when given the proper information," said Rachel Bonsignore, director at Kelton Research. "Leaving the responsibility for referral information transfer between general practitioner and specialist in the hands of the patient is neither efficient nor effective."

Specialists, including a wide range of practices such as endodontists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, orthodontists, pediatric dentists, periodontists, and prosthodontists, rely heavily on referrals from general dentists in order to provide the best quality of care and treatment to their patients. Unfulfilled referrals can hinder quality health care management and lead to larger health concerns for patients.

"As a general dentist practicing for the past 30 years, I have seen the implications that result from the current antiquated referral system," said Michael Zerivitz, DDS, of Deltona, Fla.

"Delays in treatment processes for patients often lead to larger health issues."
The survey also offered insight on what patients are looking for in a specialist:

* The Human Touch--Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of patients would be more comfortable seeing a dental specialist if they knew that the specialist was familiar with the specific details of the case.

* Going the Extra Mile--Americans are looking for doctors to familiarize themselves with their unique problems. It would be especially helpful if specialists called ahead of the appointment (29 percent) or let patients know they had their x-rays and records before the visit (60 percent).

* The Right Experience--It is very important to the majority of patients that they're seeing a specialist with experience on issues similar to their own (68 percent).

"The fact that the current referral system is inefficient and obsolete is widely known in our profession," added Zerivitz. "Patients needing specialized treatment deserve better."

For more information about Kelton's services, call (310) 479-4040 or visit Kelton Research.

To read more about dental referrals, go to risk.

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