April 28, 2011
OTTAWA — An Ottawa family doctor has pioneered a simple way to bypass the lengthy delays that patients often face when they are referred to medical specialists.
Using a web-based tool to make contact with high-demand specialists such as dermatologists and endocrinologists, Dr. Clare Liddy said she is able to get her patients faster access to medical advice.
In many cases, her system of electronic consultations eliminates the need for patients to visit the specialist in person. In cases requiring follow-up, specialists either request more patient information, order diagnostic tests, or determine that the patient needs to be seen.
Since she started using e-consultations 16 months ago, Liddy said she has cut her patients’ waits for specialists from as long as 12 months to one week.
The web-based tool is secure enough to safeguard patient information and is accessible to all physicians through a website hosted by the Champlain Local Health Integration Network, eastern Ontario’s health authority. The tool is available provincewide through other regional LHINs, meaning family physicians across the province could easily set up similar e-consultation networks, said Liddy.
Family physicians simply log on to the system, fill out an electronic form outlining their patients’ complaints, then send the document to a specialist who belongs to the e-consultation network. The specialists usually respond within a week.
Liddy, who works at The Ottawa Hospital’s Riverside Family Health Team, described the case of a recent patient who showed up at her clinic with a mysterious rash. Instead of making a traditional referral to a dermatologist, which would have resulted in a 12-month wait, Liddy sought a specialist’s advice using e-consult. She even took a digital photo of the rash and included it in her documentation.
The tool is particularly useful for patients who live in remote areas with few specialists. “Many of those patients have to make a trip to Ottawa. If you can avoid unnecessary specialist visits, that is beneficial to the patient,” Liddy told a meeting Wednesday of the Champlain LHIN.
The test project was started with a $110,000 grant from The Ottawa Hospital Academic Medical Organization, which covered consultation fees for the specialists who participated.
To date, 40 physicians, including some in Deep River and Winchester, have participated in Liddy’s project. She hopes that as more family physicians use the tool, changes will be made to the Ontario Health Insurance Plan to allow specialists to bill for the services they provide through e-consultations.
By Pauline Tam, The Ottawa Citizen April 28, 2011 3:45 PM