In Tanzania, self-referrals have been one of the sources of underutilization of primary-level health facilities resulting in the overutilization and overburdening of secondary-level health facilities. A significant number of patients receiving services at the outpatient departments in the secondary-level health facilities could have been served at the primary health facilities. Understanding of determinants of self-referral is critical to informing important interventions to improve the referral processes and rational utilization of health facilities at the two levels.
A cross-sectional study was conducted among 230 outpatients at Katavi Regional Referral Hospital in Tanzania. A convenient sampling method was used to enroll study participants. An interviewer-administered questionnaire was used to collect data. STATA version 15 was used to analyze data descriptively while the chi-square test was performed to establish the association between dependent and independent variables at a p-value of less than 0.05.
The magnitude of self-referral was 66.5%. The perceived determinants of self-referral were quality of care offered (90.8 %), availability of medicine (89.4%), proximity of health facility (88.8%), and patient-perceived severity of the disease (86.7%). The availability of medicine (p= 0.015), quality of care offered (p=0.00), location of the facility (p=0.044), place of residence (p=0.04), and patient-perceived severity of disease (p=0.017) were statistically significantly associated with the self-referral practices.
The magnitude of self-referral practice was high. Availability of essential medicines, quality of care offered by the hospital, hospital proximity, patient-perceived severity of the disease, and availability of barriers to accessing healthcare in lower-level facilities were factors significantly associated with the self-referral practice. It is recommended that continuous investment should be made in lower-level facilities to ensure patients receive the care they need at every point of care.