'Lives can absolutely be saved': Alberta doctor creates online patient referral system

An Alberta doctor has created a web-based platform for doctors and specialists to share information with patients about referrals.

Denis Vincent received a $50,000 grant from the Canadian Medical Association to market the software

Family doctor Denis Vincent has received a $50,000 to market his web-based patient-referral system. (CBC)

An Alberta doctor has created a web-based platform for doctors and specialists to share information with patients about referrals. 

Denis Vincent, an Edmonton-based family physician, received a $50,000 innovation grant from the Canadian Medical Association on Monday.

He said he will use the money to market his online software, called ezREFERRAL, across Canada and the U.S. 

Vincent said one of his patients died after a referral was lost between the emergency room and the surgeon's office.

"The story was tragic enough we felt I had to do something," Vincent said. "We figured if we just focused on the referral process replacing fax and phone, we could fix this problem." 

Improving communication

Canadian Medical Association spokesperson Anick Losier said ezREFERRAL offers a "real benefit to access to care."

The program can link patients, doctors and specialists in real time. 

"Having any solution based on today's world that can facilitate communication between the patient and doctors and specialists ultimately brings better care for patients," Losier said.

"Lives can absolutely be saved with a platform like Dr. Vincent's."

David Price of Acme, Alta., has been advocating for a tool such as ezREFERRAL since his 31-year-old son, Greg, died in 2012 from complications related to a cancer surgery. 

Price said there was a breakdown in the medical communication system before his son's death. 

David Price has been advocating for improving communication amongst health care professionals since his son died from complications related to a cancer surgery. (CBC)

"Doctors changed practices and people were away on holidays," Price said.

"When the communication system was relying on fax machines or methods that weren't confirming that the communication loop had been closed then everyone was sitting and waiting for the next step.

"While patients are often told no news is good news, in Greg's case, it just ate up critical time that made it more difficult for him to survive."

Modern technology

Nowadays, people are online most of the time and usually have their smartphones with them. 

"We expect to be able to track things, get information," Vincent said.

The exception, he said, seems to be when it comes to the health-care system. 

"It's very hard to know when that appointment with the specialist is," Vincent said.

"Patients are told to sit tight; 'Wait, we'll give you a call when it's ready.' And patients wait on the sidelines and don't know what's going on."

The web-based platform ezREFERRAL allows patients, doctors and specialists to communicate about the patient care process. (CBC)

Alberta Health Services recognizes the need for increased connectivity, at least among practitioners. 

While the agency has not sponsored ezREFERRAL, it said in an email statement that it is working on a program of its own called Connect Care, which will include referrals.  

"Connect Care will be supported by a single clinical information service that will ensure consistent patient clinical information across the province," the AHS statement said. 

AHS is still in the early stages of the initiative. 

Vincent said he sees an immediate niche for ezREFERRAL with small, independent outfits. 

"Solutions in the past have always looked at finding a big solution for a big institution, like a hospital or the healthcare system," he said. "When you're on the frontline, you need something that's quick, simple and easy.

"We probably have a winning strategy."