It’s no secret that finding a doctor in Ontario can be a painstakingly long process, but finding a specialist is often even worse. But as digital innovations continue to disrupt every facet of life, the healthcare industry is seeing major improvement because of technology.
Take the provincial eConsult initiative, for example, led by OntarioMD. The online platform, currently in pilot phase, connects community-based family physicians to specialists around Ontario for advice. The service makes it easier for doctors to find guidance and supplementary information, and it enables patients to get quicker feedback without having to find a specialist themselves.
“eConsult is meant to be a standardized tool to unify and accelerate engagement between family doctors and specialists not only for their own benefit, but to also improve patient experience,” Sarah Hutchison, CEO of OntarioMD, tells IT World Canada. “The real value of this platform is the ability to turn the consulting process around very quickly, reducing patient anxiety and wait time for feedback of what’s next in their healthcare journey.”
The project is the winner of the Information Technology Association of Canada’s Ingenious Award in the SME Public/Not-for-Profit category for 2017. ITWC is the award program’s media partner.
So far, eConsult has around 6,000 family physicians using or signed up for the service, Hutchison says, plus 500 specialists representing almost 150 specialties. It has cut wait times for patients down from weeks, months, and even years, to an average of fewer than three days, with the fastest eConsult exchange only taking 49 seconds.
“The more we’re able to use digital tools to integrate information, streamline the healthcare process, and make a better system in general, the easier a doctor’s job is and the better a patient feels,” Hutchison explains. “We’re so happy with the amount of support and uptake we’ve seen from physicians and specialists because eConsult essentially relies on them. With about 6,000 physicians currently using it in its pilot phase, there’s the potential to impact at least seven million patients in Ontario, and when it’s fully rolled out in the next few years, that number will be higher.”
Ontario’s minister of health and long-term care, Dr. Eric Hoskins, has emphasized improving access to specialist doctors, particularly in rural areas, in the province’s health strategy. Hutchison believes eConsult is a cornerstone of those plans.
“Ontario needs to move the marker on access to specialists and eConsult is a big enabler of that. With the minister’s own commitment in moving eConsult forward, as well as the support from the physicians and specialist community, we’re confident that this is making a difference in delivering a patient-first strategy,” she continues.
Feedback on the service has been positive so far. Dr. Martin Lees, primary care and clinical quality lead at Erie St. Clair Local Health Integration Network and Health Quality Ontario, highly recommends the platform, saying eConsult has allowed doctors to “connect quickly with specialists, get answers to empower them to continue caring for their patients, and possibly prevent patients from travelling great distances for a face-to-face appointment with specialists.”
Patients are also vocalizing their support.
“My doctor told me about how she used eConsult to get a specialist’s advice quickly to treat my condition,” Chris G., a patient, says in OntarioMD’s Ingenious Awards application. “I appreciated not having to take the time off work to go and see the specialist. I’m comfortable with my family doctor continuing to treat me and I’m thankful that she used this innovative to save me time.”
Saving time is one particular benefit emphasized by Hutchison, as well as eConsult’s ability to connect patients with specialists through their family doctors regardless of wherever they are situated in Ontario.
“From an access perspective, this is a service that really has a provincial impact. A patient in Thunder Bay or Windsor or Cornwall will be able to get advice from the same specialists without ever leaving their family doctor’s office, and that really evens the playing field,” she points out. “eConsult has the power to seamlessly break down accessibility barriers and extend that in an equitable way, from big city jurisdictions to small rural communities, and that’s very important to Ontarians.”
If this hasn’t proved why OntarioMD deserves to win this award, Hutchison’s humble nature may convince you.
“For OntarioMD to win this award is welcome recognition that we’re making a real difference in the lives of millions of people. I’m so proud of the eConsult platform, and of the province and OntarioMD for collaborating on this. It takes a village of great partners, meaning there needs to be alignment in thought leadership, technology leadership, physician leadership, policy leadership, and of course a fantastic product to make this all happen, and we’re doing that,” she concludes.