Abstract The study aimed to examine the factors influencing referral to rehabilitation following traumatic brain injury (TBI) by using social problems theory as a conceptual model to focus on practitioners and the process of decision-making in two Australian hospitals. The research design involved semi-structured interviews with 18 practitioners and observations of 10 team meetings, and was part of a larger study on factors influencing referral to rehabilitation in the same settings. Analysis revealed that referral decisions were influenced primarily by practitioners’ selection and their interpretation of clinical and non-clinical patient factors. Further, practitioners generally considered patient factors concurrently during an ongoing process of decision-making, with the combinations and interactions of these factors forming the basis for interpretations of problems and referral justifications. Key patient factors considered in referral decisions included functional and tracheostomy status, time since injury, age, family, place of residence and Indigenous status. However, rate and extent of progress, recovery potential, safety and burden of care, potential for independence and capacity to cope were five interpretative themes, which emerged as the justifications for referral decisions. The subsequent negotiation of referral based on patient factors was in turn shaped by the involvement of practitioners. While multi-disciplinary processes of decision-making were the norm, allied health professionals occupied a central role in referral to rehabilitation, and involvement of medical, nursing and allied health practitioners varied. Finally, the organizational pressures and resource constraints, combined with practitioners’ assimilation of the broader efficiency agenda were central factors shaping referral.