Understanding referrals

Understanding referrals

A general health care practitioner can refer you to a specialist (such as an endocrinologist or surgeon) for gender-affirming treatment. Here's what you need to know about how referrals work. 

The B.C. health care system is complex. Despite everyone’s best efforts, sometimes things will happen (like a technology glitch where a fax does not go through) that could slow down or stall a referral to a specialist. Understanding how the referral process works and taking steps to follow up can help you to catch these potential mistakes and keep your referral moving forward.

How referrals work

Generally speaking, there are three main steps in a referral process: 

  1. You speak with your primary care provider A person’s main health care provider in non-emergency situations such as check-ups and referrals. Family doctors, general practitioners (GPs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) are all primary care providers. about the referral or service you need. 
  2. Your primary care provider sends your referral (and referral package if needed) to the specialist (or centralized waitlist). 
  3. The specialist’s office (or centralized waitlist) will contact either you or your primary care provider with appointment details.

What you can do

Use these tips to help your referral move forward smoothly. 

With your primary care provider:

  • Confirm the following with your primary care provider’s office: 
    • Has the referral been sent? 
    • What is the name of the clinic and physician I was referred to? 
    • What is the clinic’s contact information? 
    • Did you receive confirmation that the clinic received the referral? 
    • Did the clinic provide a a timeline for when I could expect to hear from them? 
    • Is there anything I need to do before my appointment with the clinic?

With the specialist:

  • Contact the specialist’s office (or centralized waitlist). Have your PHN ready before you call, and ask about the following: 
    • Was the referral received? 
    • Was the referral complete or is anything missing? 
    • Is there anything I need to do while I wait to hear about an appointment?
    • Is there a timeframe in which I could expect to hear from you? 

Here are some other ways you can advocate for yourself: 

If your contact information changes, contact the clinic(s) you were referred to and update them. 

Tips for following up

If the specialist’s office (or centralized waitlist) gives you a timeframe:

  1. Put a reminder in your calendar. 
  2. If that time passes and you have not heard from the clinic, call and request an update for wait times. 
  3. Repeat if needed. 

If they do not give you a timeframe: 

  1. Ask if they can estimate a timeframe. 
  2. If they cannot provide an estimate, choose a timeframe to follow up (for example, contact them again in three months). 
  3. Put a reminder in your calendar to call and check back about an appointment or wait times. 

If you leave a message but do not hear back: 

  1. It is not uncommon for clinics to have a slow turn-around time for phone or email messages. Speak slowly and leave a message with your name (and the name on your B.C. Services Card if different), date of birth, PHN (or UCI if you are covered by IFHP Interim Federal Health Program. This is a limited and temporary health care plan that provides health care coverage to some groups of foreign nationals who are vulnerable, disadvantaged or ineligible for provincial or territorial health insurance. ) and phone number, with your request for a call or email response.
  2. If you do not hear back in 3–5 business days, try calling again. 

If you have difficulty following up with the office or if the office does not accept calls to check on referral status: 

  1. Ask your primary care provider for help with following up.
  2. Repeat if needed. 
Need support?

Contact our team of experienced health navigators for information about gender-affirming care in B.C.