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In the news: Beyond the fax — a makeover for the region’s medical referral system

The eCE's System Coordinated Access (SCA) program was recently featured in the Waterloo Record. Check out the story (by Johanna Weidner) here, or read on below!

 

WATERLOO REGION — Doctors in this region are on the way to moving beyond the antiquated practice of faxing paper referrals to specialists.

 

The local eHealth centre is working on a new regionwide electronic referral system to streamline the process, reduce delays and also allow patients to check on the status.

 

"This is something that really came out of a need," said Dr. Mohamed Alarakhia, director of the eHealth Centre of Excellence.

 

The project is in collaboration with the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network, which oversees local health care, and the home care co-ordinator Waterloo Wellington Community Care Access Centre.

 

Right now, he said, "it's frustrating for everyone."

 

Family doctors' offices fax referrals and don't know if they're received or when to expect a reply, specialists may not get all the information needed to proceed, and patients often are in the dark about the whole process.

 

"The next step is often not clear in the pathway," Alarakhia said for patients after a referral is made.

 

Those shortfalls prompted the partners to enlist an Ontario-based consortium to lead the design and deployment of a secure online referral platform for the Waterloo Wellington community that will standardize forms and the process.

 

It will build on a system already used at Cambridge Memorial Hospital for diagnostic imaging services, but expand it to include referrals to specialists and programs as well as a patient portal.

 

Through that portal, patients can see the status of their referral along with any special instructions for the appointment. Alarakhia said appointments are often cancelled because the patient was not prepared.

 

"It's very challenging to get that information in a timely way," Alarakhia said.

 

Patients or their caregivers can also see what services are available — such as a gentle exercise program or diet class for a patient with heart disease — and book them, or ask for a referral from their family doctor.

 

That part intrigues Alison Hendry. The Waterloo woman helps look after the health care of her elderly parents, and she's found the referral process is not always straightforward.

 

Being able to see where a referral is would be a huge help, while making the whole system easier for everyone.

 

"It will be very freeing for people to have access to that information," she said.

Listing services will also be useful, since Hendry knows it can take a lot of time to track down what's available.

 

"It's a considerable amount of work to find it."

 

At first the system will focus on three high-priority referral pathways, including diabetes programs, orthopedic specialists and chronic disease prevention and management resources. The plan is to expand the platform after that to other programs and services, and then to partnering health networks.

 

Alarakhia said they worked hard to get seven other health networks in the province on board and they'll have input on the design.

 

"What we're doing here needs to expand."

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