Patterns, quality and appropriateness of surgical referrals in Malawi
SourceTropical Medicine & International Health, 25, 7, (2020), pp. 824-833
Article / Letter to editor
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Tropical Medicine & International Health
SubjectRadboudumc 4: lnfectious Diseases and Global Health RIHS: Radboud Institute for Health Sciences
OBJECTIVES: Reliable referral systems are essential to the functionality and efficiency of the wider health care system in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), particularly in surgery as the disease burden is growing while resources remain constrained and unevenly distributed. Yet, this is a critically under-researched area. This study aimed to provide a comprehensive assessment of surgical referral systems in a LMIC, Malawi, with a view to shedding light on this important aspect of public health and share lessons learned. METHODS: We conducted a prospective analysis of all inter-hospital referrals received at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in 2014-2015. A subsample of 255 referrals was assessed by three independent surgical experts against necessity and quality of the transfer to identify any inefficiencies in the referral process. RESULTS: 1317 patients were referred to QECH during the study period (average 53/month), 80% sent by government district hospitals. One in 3 cases were referred unnecessarily, many of which could have been managed locally. In 82% of cases, there was no communication with QECH prior to referral, 41% had incorrect/incomplete diagnosis by the referring clinicians and 39% of referrals were not timely. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings provide the first evidence on the state of the surgical referral system in Malawi and contribute to building the body of knowledge necessary to inform system improvements. Responses should include reducing inappropriate use of specialist care and ensuring better care pathways for surgical patients, especially in rural areas, where access to specialist expertise is not available at present.
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