Framing the Consultation: The Role of the Referral in Surgeon-Patient Consultations

Sarah J. White, Maria H. Stubbe, Lindsay M. Macdonald, Anthony C. Dowell, Kevin P. Dew, Rod Gardner

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)


    This study describes and analyzes the impact of the referral process on communication at the beginning of surgeon-patient consultations. We used conversation analysis to analyze the opening interactional activities of surgeon-patient consultations in New Zealand. This study focuses on 20 video-recorded consultations recorded between 2004 and 2006. Participants in surgeon-patient consultations began referred consultations by discussing the referral letter in what we have termed "referral recognition sequences." These sequences are coconstructed activities that can be implicit or explicit and address the minimized epistemic distance between surgeons and patients that is caused by the referral process. These sequences can be simple or complex, and this complexity may be determined by the quality of the referral letter received. Acknowledgment of the referral letter assists in achieving alignment between surgeon, patient, and referring doctor regarding the presenting problem. If this alignment is not achieved, progressivity of the consultation is affected, as there is disagreement as to why the patient is seeing the surgeon. This research shows that to assist in the progressivity of surgeon-patient consultations, referral letters should be clear and patients made aware of the reason for referral. Surgeons should also overtly address the minimized epistemic distance caused by the referral letter to ensure patients present their problems in full.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)74-80
    Number of pages7
    JournalHealth Communication
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2014


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