Two out of five CCGs that responded to a request for information from the BMJ - 72 CCGs out of a total 184 responses - said they have a referral management scheme in place. Of these, 32% contracted a private company to operate the scheme.
CCGs are paying these providers millions of pounds a year to operate the schemes, some of which aim to cut costs while others aim to drive up the quality of referrals.
But the investigation found that nearly three quarters of CCGs that responded were unable to demonstrate that their referral schemes saved money.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said CCGs were 'leaping at these schemes without any clear evidence of benefit'.
'It is a very, very short-term approach to healthcare management,' he warned. 'We need to see much more evaluation.'
However, Dr Vautrey added that some schemes that allow GPs quick access to guidance and help from local specialists were helpful.
Graham Jackson, co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners said referral management was just one mechanism that local groups use to try to manage demand for services.
'In many cases they provide a useful and effective role which is more than a redirection service. CCGs will balance the cost of commissioning with the benefit they provide to GPs and patients in terms of peer review, education, caseload management and choice.'