OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the ‘natural history’ of outpatients who were referred to the Division of Gastroenterology at the University of Alberta Hospital (Edmonton, Alberta) for gastrointestinal problems and were subsequently declined.METHODS: Patients were tracked for 12 months after they were referred and declined for the following indications: abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, fecal occult blood test-positive stools and iron deficiency. For each patient, data regarding consultations by other gastroenterologists or surgeons working in the region, clinically relevant diagnoses and the number of gastrointestinal-related x-rays performed were obtained.RESULTS: Of a total sample size of 230 patients, 110 (47.8%) were seen by another gastroenterologist or surgeon after decline. A significant diagnosis was made in 21 patients (9.1%), which had immediate clinical consequences in 29%. Forty per cent of patients underwent one or more gastointestinal-related x-rays before being declined, which increased to 55% after decline.CONCLUSION: Approximately 50% of declined patients were seen by other gastroenterologists or surgeons in the region. In 9.1% of these patients, a clinically important diagnosis was made, of which one-quarter had immediate medical consequences.