Spine surgeons in the United States continue to be overwhelmed by an aging population, and patients are waiting weeks to months for appointments. With a finite number of clinic visits per surgeon, analysis of referral sources needs to be explored. In this study, the authors evaluated patient referrals and their yield for surgical volume at a tertiary care center.
This is a retrospective study of new patient visits by the spine surgery group at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Spine Health from 2011 to 2016. Data on all new or consultation visits for 5 identified spinal surgeons at the Center for Spine Health were collected. Patients with an identifiable referral source and who were at least 18 years of age at initial visit were included in this study. Univariate analysis was used to identify demographic differences among referral groups, and then multivariate analysis was used to evaluate those referral groups as significant predictors of surgical yield.
After adjusting for demographic differences across all referrals, multivariate analysis identified physician referrals as more likely (OR 1.48, 95% CI 1.04–2.10, p = 0.0293) to yield a surgical case than self-referrals. General practitioner referrals (OR 0.5616, 95% CI 0.3809–0.8278, p = 0.0036) were identified as less likely to yield surgical cases than referrals from interventionalists (OR 1.5296, p = 0.058) or neurologists (OR 1.7498, 95% CI 1.0057–3.0446, p = 0.0477). Additionally, 2 demographic factors, including distance from home and age, were identified as predictors of surgery. Local patients (OR 1.21, 95% CI 1.13–1.29, p = 0.018) and those 65 years of age or older (OR 0.80, 95% CI 0.72–0.87, p = 0.0023) were both more likely to need surgery after establishing care with a spine surgeon.
In conclusion, referrals from general practitioners and self-referrals are important areas where focused triaging may be necessary. Further research into midlevel providers and nonsurgical spine provider’s role in these referrals for spine pathology is needed. Patients from outside of the state or younger than 65 years could benefit from pre-visit screening as well to optimize a surgeon’s clinic time use and streamline patient care.