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March 14, 2014

UEC’s Referral Service Working with a Growing Community of Practitioners

Since its establishment more than five years ago, the University Eye Center’s Referral Service has provided the clinic with a steady and growing stream of patients. The growth, in fact, has been staggering. Last year, the Referral Service produced close to three times the number of patient encounters than it had just five years earlier. That growth, according to Dr. Harriette Canellos, the Referral Service’s director, can be attributed to several factors, including the UEC’s reputation, the multitude of specialty services that it provides and simple word-of-mouth from a wide range of satisfied referring doctors and other health care professionals in the community.

“When the Referral Service began, we assumed that we would be receiving referrals from doctors in the New York City area,” Dr. Canellos says, “but we quickly started to receive referrals from Long Island, Westchester County and Upstate New York, as well as from Connecticut and beyond. It’s a testament to the good work that we’ve been doing here.”

Many referrals come from optometrists and ophthalmologist looking for specialized services that they don’t perform in their own practices. “Optometrists and ophthalmologists often refer patients to us for things like specialty contact lens fittings, or for our extensive Imaging Service,” Dr. Canellos notes.

Over the past year, however, one area of growth for the Referral Service has been particularly notable. In 2012, more than a quarter of the referrals made through the Referral Service came from specialists outside of the areas of optometry and ophthalmology. Last year, that number grew to more than one-third of all referrals.

Dr. Canellos credits a growing recognition about the importance of an interprofessional approach to health care as part of the reason for this development. “These referring providers are recognizing that optometrists are part of a larger health care team,” Dr. Canellos notes.

This fact seems to be well illustrated in the Referral Services’ data. “Primary care physicians and pediatricians have recognized our excellence when it comes to both routine exams and advanced care,” Dr. Canellos says. “We see referrals from primary care physicians for patients with systemic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, and we see referrals from pediatricians for children with conditions ranging from eye infections to learning disabilities.” In addition, when a child fails a basic vision screening performed by a pediatrician, that doctor often refers that child to the UEC for a more extensive examination.

The Referral Service is also seeing an expanding number of referrals from beyond the realm of primary care physicians and pediatricians. Specialists are regularly referring their patients to the UEC. “We have dermatologists who refer their patients to our Oculoplastics Service, and neurologists who refer to our Head Trauma Service,” Dr. Canellos says. “And we’re also seeing an increasing number of referrals from professionals like speech pathologists, audiologists, occupational and physical therapists, as well as from school psychologists, teachers and child advocates.”

The Referral Service was created to provide services and testing that complement what the referring practitioners can deliver to their patients. This goal, Dr. Canellos notes, epitomizes what interprofessional health care is all about. But it also helps to highlight the three-pronged mission of the institution—education, research and patient care—to the larger health care community.

“The Referral Service is looking to increase our recognition, not only as a patient care facility but also as an important educational institution that engages in high quality research as well,” she says. “The Referral Service plays a key role in raising the visibility of our entire institutional mission.”