Paediatricians: Referral rates and speech pathology waiting lists

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Abstract

Objective:

This study aimed to examine paediatricians' training in and understanding of communication development and disabilities and their attitudes to speech pathology waiting lists and management practices. The relationship between these factors and referral rates was also investigated.

Methodology:

A total of 229 paediatricians registered with the Australian College of Paediatrics participated in the study in November 1996. They answered 15 multiple-choice questions designed to collect demographic information and data pertaining to their training and understanding of communication development and disabilities. The survey also obtained data on referral rates to public and private speech pathology services and on paediatricians' perceptions of speech pathology waiting lists and possible management strategies.

Results:

Referral rate to public and private speech pathology services was found to be associated with the quality of paediatricians' training in and knowledge of communication development and disabilities. Paediatricians who had regular contact with speech pathologists were also more likely to make more referrals. Waiting lists had a negative influence on referral rate. Treatment rather than assessment waiting lists were preferred. Paediatricians believed the best solution to speech pathology waiting lists was an increase in staffing levels particularly in community health centres. Respondents reported that 1-4 months was an acceptable time to wait for speech pathology care and indicated the order of importance of factors for prioritising children.

Conclusions:

The results have important implications for developing best practice models for improving referral processes and access to speech pathology services for children with communication disabilities.

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