Doctor-created solution helps curb patient wait times

Nathalie Achim recently attended an office visit with her family physician who needed to be in touch with a specialist. So when her doctor called her back, she assumed it was to tell her when and where to show up for her specialist appointment.

“Instead, I was told that the specialist had already provided advice, and all I needed was a minor fix that could be taken care of by my GP,” said Achim, whose wait time was erased thanks to the visionary work of two Ottawa-area physicians.

It all began in 2008 when Dr. Clare Liddy, Primary Care Lead for the Champlain BASE™ eConsult Service, was told her patient faced a nine-month wait to see an endocrinologist.

“I was frustrated by the amount of time my patients were waiting to see a specialist for matters that could perhaps be resolved with a simple communication, and that nine month wait was the catalyst for me. I knew something had to be done.” she said.

Meanwhile Dr. Erin Keely, Chief, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at The Ottawa Hospital, was also frustrated by the long waits patients endured for relatively simple consultations with her.

“Our wait times are up to a year for non-urgent cases and my colleagues and I felt patients were waiting needlessly to come see us for something that could be addressed directly with their primary care doctor,” said Keely.

Together, the doctors created the Champlain BASE™ eConsult Service, a secure, online platform that enables primary care providers to seek advice from 107 specialty services.  Since it was created nine years ago,  more than 1,300 primary care providers have signed up for it,  more than 31,000 patients have received faster access to specialist advice,  and more than 60 per cent of cases have been resolved without the patient requiring a face-to-face specialist visit.

Dr. Annabelle Lévesque-Chouinard, a Gatineau family physician, credits the service with reducing the time patients wait to receive the care and treatment they need.

“I had a patient come to me with a lesion that persisted, despite the use of a variety of ointments and creams,” she explained. “Rather than fax a referral and have the patient wait for an appointment, I sent a photo of the lesion to a dermatologist, who replied quickly and together we were able to resolve the issue without delay. I wish more of my colleagues had access.”

So do doctors Liddy and Keely.

Encouraged with the positive feedback they have received from physicians, their objective is to increase the number of doctors in Quebec who have access to the Champlain BASE™ eConsult Service, and to spread the service to rural, remote areas in Newfoundland and Labrador. They also plan to launch in Manitoba. In Ontario, eConsult continues to grow through the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) hub. Offered in conjunction with OntarioMD, the OTN eConsult service is available in several Local Health Integrated Networks through two models: Direct to Specialist (OTN eConsult) or as a Managed Service (Champlain BASE™ eConsult).

It is a solution whose time has come.

While advocating for a single-payer health care system at a U.S. Senate Committee hearing in 2014, Dr. Danielle Martin, Vice-President, Medical Affairs at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, shared that she had been held up for 30 minutes at the entrance to clear the building’s security that morning, only to see a second security entrance with no queue. “Sometimes it’s not actually about the amount of resources that you have, but rather about how you organize people in order to use your queues most effectively,” she said.

Michael Green, President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway, says the Champlain BASE™ eConsult Service exemplifies how disruption through digital health can improve the health care experience for patients.

“Canadian health care providers have a unique understanding of the obstacles they and their patients face,” said Green. “I am impressed with the results of the Champlain BASE™ eConsult Service, and hope to see the use of e-consults continue to grow to improve the health care experience of more and more Canadians.”

Achim hopes so too.

“I’m a busy working mother, and attending a medical appointment requires a lot of juggling,” she said.  “It’s reassuring to know digital health innovation is making access to care easier for families like mine.”

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