Public patients are referred to specialists from emergency departments or by their general practitioner. Hospital and Health Services develop guidelines which help the referring doctors decide to whom they will refer patients and ensure the doctors provide appropriate information.
Long surgical and outpatient waiting times and inappropriate referrals to specialist medical appointments can contribute to sub-optimal outcomes for patients. As at 1 January 2017, the Department of Health reported 190 158 patients were waiting for a specialist outpatient appointment. Patients waiting longer than clinically recommended periods of time varied between two and 56 per cent depending on the specialty.
The Department of Health establishes outpatient waiting times as an important performance measure in their service agreements with the Hospital and Health Services and assigns funding for this. The Queensland health sector has several strategies to address specialist outpatient waiting times including the Specialist Outpatient Strategy and the Clinical Prioritisation Criteria program (currently being developed).