How to refer for medical imaging

Considerations when you are referring

One of the main interactions with radiology that most doctors and healthcare professionals will have is referring a patient for an X-ray. This is also the stage that can have the most impact on reducing patient radiation burden and it is important to carefully consider each referral.

This short educational cartoon designed by and funded by the Health Foundation talks you through the thought process of a doctor requesting X-rays.

Take away points

  • There are many benefits associated with medical imaging.

  • The level of risk is difficult to quantify and depends on the age of the patient.

  • You need to discuss the benefits and the risks with the patient. If you want to find out more about how to have this conversion go to our Radiation Risks-Referrers page.

  • Before you refer for medical imaging you should consider whether it is the best way of getting the information you need for that patient:

    • Has this imaging been done already?

    • Do I need the information provided by imaging and do I need it now?

    • Is imaging the best way to get this information?

    • Am I able to provide enough information in the referral for the imaging provider to ensure this is the right imaging?

Any employer that provides imaging will need to provide its referrers with information on the referral criteria that it feels are acceptable. Many providers within the UK use iRefer as the basis for their referral criteria.


The Royal College of Radiologists provides criteria that most hospitals use as the basis for what they consider acceptable in terms of referrals. Access to this site can be found by clicking the image.

This document also provides indicative values of the dose associated with the exams. The document is extremely useful but not everyone has automatic access.

Poster for use in GP waiting rooms

To help you start open discussions with your patients about the correct use of medical imaging we have produced a poster which can be used in waiting rooms that introduces the concept that medical imaging isn't always needed. You can find this poster below:

Lizzie poster_14012022.pdf

You can download and print this poster by clicking here.

Davies_Radiation Risk Poster CS3_82213789 Referrers.pdf

This poster is aimed at informing referrers of the requirement to inform patients of the radiation risk.