Original Research

Investigating physician self-referral in public hospitals in South East Nigeria: Insights from stakeholders

Bartholomew S. Eze, Mari Jones
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 14, No 1 | a3271 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v14i1.3271 | © 2022 Bartholomew S. Eze, Mari Jones | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 September 2021 | Published: 31 October 2022

About the author(s)

Bartholomew S. Eze, Department of Health Administration and Management, Faculty of Health Sciences and Technology, University of Nigeria, Enugu, Nigeria
Mari Jones, Swansea Centre for Health Economics, College of Human and Health Sciences, Swansea University, Swansea, United Kingdom


Background: Physician self-referral occurs where a full-time paid doctor diverts patients from one hospital to another in which he or she has financial interest.

Aim: This study is aimed at investigating the views of service users, physicians and policymakers on physician self-referral practice in public hospitals in Nigeria.

Setting: The study was carried out in Enugu urban area of South East Nigeria.

Methods: A mix of qualitative and quantitative methods was used to collect information from different categories of stakeholders. Service user views were explored through analysis of four focus group discussions involving 26 participants and 407 questionnaires completed with household members who had recently visited a public hospital and then gone to private hospitals. In-depth interviews were completed with 15 public sector doctors not involved in dual practice and eight key policymakers.

Results: Thirty-four of 407 respondents (8.4%) visiting a public hospital were diverted to a private facility associated with the attending public hospital doctor. The research examined age, gender and socio-economic status (SES) as factors that might influence the likelihood of patient diversion. Advice to transfer to a private clinic usually came directly from the doctor involved but might also come from nurses.

Conclusion: Physician self-referral in Nigeria could take different forms. It was found that both direct and indirect forms of diversion exist, suggesting that this is an organised practice in which dual-practice doctors and supporting hospital staff members cooperate. The study recommends, among other things, that service users should be adequately protected from any form of diversion to private practice by the public system employee doctors.

Contribution: This study contributes to understanding the extent and pattern of patient diversion in public hospitals in Nigeria. The findings reveal coordinated tactics for diverting public hospital patients and provide a direction for future research in negative behaviour among healthcare professionals in Nigeria.


dual practice; physician self-referral; patient diversion; physician; public hospital; Nigeria.


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