Getting Your Foot in the Door: Access to Surgical Care for Thyroid Disease

Published:November 22, 2022DOI:


      • Most patients seen in thyroid surgical clinic were referred by endocrinologists, self-referrals, and primary care physicians.
      • Self-referred patients had significantly shorter wait times from referrals to clinic visits and from clinic visits to operations.
      • Referral sources, sex, and referral reasons were independent predictors of undergoing operations.
      • Patients who were referred by specialists were more likely to receive operations than self-referrals and PCP referrals. However, there was no difference in operation rate between self-referrals and PCP-referrals.



      Access to specialty care can be challenging for patients, often involving multiple evaluations, laboratory tests, and referrals. To better understand the different pathways to specialty care, we examined the outcomes of patients evaluated for surgical thyroid disease at a single tertiary referral clinic.


      We reviewed 691 patients seen in the endocrine surgery clinic for thyroid disease (2018-2021). Patient demographics, referral source, referral reason, and reason for not receiving an operation were collected. The number of days from referral to initial clinic visit and from initial clinic visit to an operation were also collected. The Chi-square test, the independent t-test, the Kruskal–Wallis test, the Dunn-Bonferroni post hoc test, and multiple logistic regression tests were performed using SPSS.


      The top reasons for referral were thyroid nodules (54.4%), hyperthyroidism (26.5%), and multinodular goiter (10.3%). Specialty clinic referrals came from endocrinologists (56.0%), self-referrals (15.5%), and primary care physicians (PCP; 14.4%). Self-referred patients had a shorter waiting time for an appointment than those referred by endocrinologists and PCPs. [median (IQR) (days) 12 (6-17) versus 16 (9-24) versus 16 (9-25), P < 0.001]. Overall, 450 (72.7%) patients underwent thyroid surgery. For those who underwent thyroidectomy, self-referred patients had a shorter time between initial clinic visit and the operation compared to those referred by endocrinologists and PCPs [median (IQR) (days) 2 (1-19) versus 19 (8-33) versus 16 (1-48), P < 0.001]. Patients referred for hyperthyroidism (odds ratio [OR] = 2.2, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.3-10.5, P = 0.012 were more likely to undergo an operation than those referred for other reasons.


      Access to specialty care for thyroid disease is facilitated and optimized when self-referrals are permitted. Reducing or eliminating the requirement for a provider referral may improve patients’ access.


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