mi-referral-management

HealthLine worker Allisha Vandesype, a waitlist information clerk, demonstrates Saskatchewan's new Referral Management System. (Sheryl Rennie/CBC)

Saskatchewan is expanding a pilot program designed to improve the way doctors refer patients to various specialists, following a small-scale program that saw some waiting periods nearly cut in half.

The new process builds on existing practices by some doctors who agree to send a patient along to the next available specialist, unless there is a specific reason or preference for a certain doctor.

The practice, called pooling, can now be augmented and streamlined using a new Referral Management System.

The new pooled referral system will be of particular use for doctors who don't share offices with others.

A pilot project involved obstetricians and gynecologists in the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region. There are 18 such doctors with 12 separate offices and it can be difficult for them to coordinate referrals amongst themselves.

With a central office providing support, patients can be booked with greater ease.

It also ensures referring doctors do not have to worry about keeping track of how waiting lists are faring with different specialists.

"It's hard for the family doctors to know what the waiting lists are in the various areas," Dr. Corinne Jabs, an obstetrician and gynecologist who took part in the pilot project in Regina, said. "The beauty of this is they don't have to keep track of that."

The Regina Qu'Appelle pilot program, which ran for five months, found that waiting times to see a specialist dropped from 44 days to 24 days. In that time, 43 per cent of patients chose to go with the next available specialist doctor.

Jabs noted that patients may still choose the physician they would like to see, if they have a preference.

General surgeons in the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region joined the Referral Management System a week ago.

The province hopes to add three more groups of specialists to the system in 2013.

Throughout Saskatchewan, there are a total of eight specialist groups who could benefit from the Referral Management System.

While participation is not mandatory, the province said officials will work with doctor groups to support those who are keen to take part.

With files from CBC's Sheryl Rennie