When it comes to sending a patient to the proper specialist for the right reasons, some doctors tend to over- or underperform. You never want to deny a patient the care he or she truly needs, but you also want to make sure you're not causing that patient undue stress or financial hardship for an unnecessary referral, either.

Research into this critical topic has made it easier for doctors to decide the right course of action when it comes to appropriate referrals. Here's what you need to know.

Don't bend to patient pressure.

A study by the University of Texas at Galveston reported that more than half of PCPs made an unneeded referral to a specialist based on patient request alone. This may seem like a good way to keep your patients happy so you get good reviews, but it's a big waste of time and resources.

Clearly explain to your patients why you don't feel they need specialized care, and back your words up with concrete info from test results and imaging to ease their minds. Also, explain that the referral they don't need will cost them money — chances are good this will have a persuasive effect on their accurate view of the situation.

Emphasize "watchful waiting."

To reassure patients further, talk with them about your intention to closely monitor their condition through regular appointments. Through this kind of "watchful waiting," you're sure to stay on top of any changes in condition that does warrant a referral.

A study from the UC Davis Health System found that this approach works well on an interpersonal level as well, because you're not refusing their referral request outright you're expressing care, respect and caution.

Use social service referrals wisely.

Research from Indiana University shows that consulting social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists can be incredibly effective in terms of preventing high-risk patients from developing or redeveloping major and minor illness.

Making sure your patients have access to enough food, safe housing and transportation is key to overall health, so don't hesitate to work with the professionals who can help them meet their essential needs.

Do your homework.

When you do need to refer a patient, don't simply select a specialist's name off a list from your healthcare organization.

Take the time to note the backgrounds and expertise info about more than one specialist, then discuss with your patient why you feel these physicians are best equipped to help him/her. If at all possible, let your patient choose who to see based on your informed recommendation.

Stay in the loop when an essential referral is made.

Make sure to contact the specialist you've referred your patient to by phone or email prior to their appointment to explain the case in-depth, and follow up immediately after the appointment for details.

Working in tandem with a specialist ensures both you and your patient understand and agree with more extensive testing and treatment, so your patient gets the right care he or she is comfortable with and is prepared for.