Parent partnerships in communication and decision making about subspecialty referrals for children with special needs

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Medicine, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine; Department of Pediatrics; Meyers Primary Care Institute

Publication Date


Document Type



Parents; Parenting; Communication; Decision Making; Referral and Consultation; Secondary Care; Disabled Children; Patient-Centered Care


Health Services Administration | Health Services Research | Pediatrics | Primary Care


OBJECTIVE: To describe factors that influence parent-clinician partnerships in information exchange and shared decision making (SDM) when children with special health care needs are referred to subspecialists.

METHODS: We conducted focus groups with parents of children with special health care needs and pediatric primary care and subspecialty clinicians about how to include parents as partners in information exchange and SDM. Five parent and 5 clinician groups were held to identify themes to inform the development of interventions to promote parent partnerships; evaluate a prototype referral care plan and related parent supports as one example of a partnership tool; and compare the views of parents and clinicians. We used investigator triangulation and member checking to improve validity.

RESULTS: Nineteen parents and 23 clinicians participated. Parents discussed partnerships more easily than clinicians did, though clinicians offered more ideas as sessions progressed. Parents and clinicians agreed on the importance of 3-way communication and valued primary care involvement in all stages of referral and consultation. SDM was seen by all as important; clinicians cited difficulties inherent in discussing unclear options, while parents cited insufficient information as a barrier to understanding. Use of a brief referral care plan, with parent coaching, was embraced by all parents and most clinicians. Clinicians cited time pressures and interference with work flow as potential barriers to its use.

CONCLUSIONS: Parents and clinicians endorse partnership in referrals, though relatively greater enthusiasm from parents may signal the need for work in implementing this partnership. Use of a care plan to support parent engagement appears promising as a partnership tool.

Copyright © 2013 Academic Pediatric Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

DOI of Published Version



Acad Pediatr. 2013 Mar;13(2):122-32. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2012.12.003. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Academic pediatrics

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID