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Initial, subsequent or additional referral

Although mental health professionals will conduct their own assessment of presenting patients, the initial referral remains an important tool for transferring key information about the patient. A detailed referral outlining relevant demographic and clinical information is critically important and can make a difference when a patient visits the treating mental health professional to whom the referral has been made. In addition, the outcomes of any inventories administered (e.g., K-10) that provide information of value to mental health professionals are generally shared as part of the referral process.

Anecdotally, it is reported that there is considerable variation in the quality of referrals to mental health professionals, including under the Better Access initiative. Communicating vital medical and mental health information and issues in a referral reduces time and duplication for the patient, allowing for the provision of a more focused and seamless service by the mental health professional.

Where mental health professionals receive a referral from a medical professional, communication confirming receipt of the referral and acceptance of the patient into the mental health service is appropriate. If following a referral, it is expected that there will be a waiting time for an appointment it is important that this is explained to the patient and that the referring professional is provided with sufficient information to support patients while they are waiting for their first appointment, or alternatively, consider the necessity for referral to another mental health professional.

The use of standard templates can assist referrers to cover key information relevant to mental health presentations and enhance mental health treatment. For example, the GPMHSC have designed templates to support general practitioners (GPs) in their management of patient care and referral. 

Principle 1: Referral

Referring professionals document a clear reason for the referral to the mental health professional accompanied by the relevant history, key presenting issues and any risk factors.

Principle 2: Mental Health Treatment Plan templates

Where applicable, referring professionals use standardised templates such as one of the four GPMHSC templates to document information relevant to the patient’s presentation.

Principle 3: Provision of relevant information

In order to enhance the patient’s mental health service, the referring professional, with patient consent, provides the mental health professional with a copy of any relevant reports or communication with other health professionals.

Principle 4: Acceptance of referral

Mental health professionals confirm acceptance of the referral, and inform the patient and the referring professional if there is a delay in the patient’s access to treatment.

Principle 5: Required communication under Better Access

Before treatment begins, the treating mental health professional informs patients about what communication is required to occur with the referring professional and the form in which it will occur (e.g., email, fax, telephone). During treatment, patients are informed about the need for any additional communication over and above what was explained at the outset of treatment.

Principle 6: Provision of test results

The results of relevant tests and inventories administered to the patient are shared with relevant health professionals.


Practice guide: Communication between medical and mental health professionals