A referral is something you get from your primary care doctor in order to see a more specialized doctor (cardiologist, neurologist, etc.). It is something you have to get in order for most insurance plans to help pay for your visit. It usually involves having an appointment with your primary care doctor first, where he or she decides whether or not you need to see a specialist.


If your primary care physician finds a complicated illness that he or she cannot treat, then your physician will refer you to a specialist.  For example, if your primary care physician (family doctor) finds a problem with your heart, the doctor will refer/send you to a specialist, in this case a cardiologist, who will focus just on your heart.