Specialist Referral Followup: How Do You Handle Them?

Published by Beth Campbell Duke on

Short video on what we've learned about following up with a specialist referral.

Transcript: Specialist Referral Followup

Hi it’s Beth from Navigating Healthcare. Today I’d like to share a few thoughts about handling a specialist referral followup. Why follow up? With whom? And how do you follow up?

Let’s start with ‘Why’. Because things get lost in our healthcare system – especially in transitions. Referral to a specialist is a transition of care from one physician to another.

Don’t referrals just ‘go through’ and you need to be patient? The answer is NO. A recent study in Ontario (Keely and Liddy, 2017) found that 36% of referrals had received no response within the 7 weeks that the study ran. Who knows what happened. Maybe they disappeared into the fax void. At any rate, 36% is a high enough percentage that it’s in our best interests as patients and care partners to make a call to make sure things are moving smoothly. I put a reminder in my calendar to make a follow up call in 3-5 business days if we haven’t heard back. You want to check in that the referral has been received.

This gets us to the next barrier – calling a specialist’s office may often result in you getting a voice mail message telling you not to leave a message b/c it won’t be returned. I know this stops a lot of people and I’ve had the conversation with my mother. She told me about running into the voice mail that I ignore. I asked if she’d left a message. She said she hadn’t – and I pointed out that they already weren’t calling her back. So I left a message and they voila – they called me back.

Consider this your official permission to leave a voice mail even if it says not to.

It’s important that you structure your phone message so it conveys the necessary information and is short. The person listening to the message shouldn’t have to listen a second or third time. I give my name, one sentence about why I’m calling, my name again and I SLOWLY give my phone number. Then I repeat my phone number, say thanks and good bye. And then I hang up.

And if you really don’t hear back? I follow up in 3-5 business days with the referring physician or nurse practitioner to let them know we haven’t heard back so they can resend the referral. When this happens, I follow up the same or the next day. When you do get in touch with the specialist’s office, you can ask how long it will be until you hear about an appointment. Then, of course, put that date into your calendar!

Having a procedure that you know can help you close the loop on things in healthcare is important. We’ve found our healthcare professionals very helpful when we follow up.

You can learn more about the course, sign onto my mailing list and book a 20 minute discovery call at NavigatingHealthcare.ca/work-with-beth (or click on the image in the sidebar) – or find Navigating Healthcare on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


Keely, E. and  C. Liddy. “Transforming the specialist referral and consultation process in Canada”, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Canadian Medical Association, 2019. Accessed August 26, 2021 from https://www.cmaj.ca/content/191/15/E408.

Beth Campbell Duke

Beth is a science educator and family caregiver for her husband, Tony, and her parents. She's busy developing programs and materials to help other patients and family caregivers navigate the healthcare system and tell their stories. Beth's biggest wish is to see the healthcare system incorporate 'trauma-informed care' into its workplaces to address the growing number of healthcare providers, patients and family caregivers experiencing primary and secondary trauma.