Parents as Information Intermediaries Between Primary Care and Specialty Physicians

Parents frequently act as information intermediaries between their child's primary care physician and specialty providers, but how physicians and parents perceive this arrangement has not been investigated. This study examines the degree to which parents serve as information intermediaries in children referred from community practice to an academic referral center, as well both partent and physician attitudes to their performing this role.

The parents of the referred children were surveyed at the time of the first specialty visit and then six months later. Completed surveys were received from primary care physicians for 173 children, from specialists for 157 children, and from parents for 121 children. The study found that a large majority of parents thought it was important for them to take an active role in communication between their child's physicians. A smaller proportion (38%) perceived that they were the primary method of communication. One in three parents did not feel comfortable in the role, although many felt more comfortable with this reality than did their physicians. Specialists reported communication with primary care physicians for only 50 percent of enrolled children. The authors recommend that physicians discuss with parents the roles they feel comfortable in assuming when specialty referrals are initiated.