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2020 Aug 24

Int J Adolesc Med Health

Primary care pediatricians’ use of specialty referrals in treating children with chronic abdominal pain.


Memarian S, Pawlowski C, Tumin D, Jose FA, Jamison SD
Int J Adolesc Med Health. 2020 Aug 24.
PMID: 32829313.


Objectives Pediatric chronic abdominal pain (CAP) is typically managed in primary care settings, although specialty referrals may help patients access the full range of biopsychosocial treatment options. We investigated patterns of specialty referral (gastroenterology or mental health) among children with CAP seen in an academic pediatric primary care clinic. Methods We retrospectively identified patients age 4-17 years visiting our primary care clinic in 2016-2017 for abdominal pain, identified using International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes. We excluded patients whose symptoms did not persist for 3 months or who were referred to a specialist before their symptoms had persisted for 3 months. Referral outcomes were assessed through December 2018. Results Of 320 patients with qualifying ICD codes, 253 were excluded because their symptoms did not persist for 3 months; 31 had already been referred to a specialist within 3 months of pain onset; and one chart could not be accessed. Of the remaining 34 patients (22/12 girls/boys, median age 10 years) 10 (29%) were referred to a gastroenterologist and none were referred to mental health specialists. No clinical or demographic factors reached statistically significant associations with gastroenterology referral, although pain duration was shorter among patients who were referred. Conclusions Children with CAP managed in our primary care clinic were seldom referred to specialists after their pain persisted over 3 months. Increasing focus on cognitive-behavioral therapies for chronic pain, and the low specialty referral rate, indicates that primary care practices should be prepared to offer these treatment modalities to children with CAP.