Greg Price was a young, athletic engineer when he died of testicular cancer in 2012. A young Edmonton mother known as “Mama G” was just 28 years old when she died of cancer that started in her gallbladder. The two patients share a tragic connection: both died of cancer – perhaps unnecessarily – because a faxed referral resulted in a lengthy delay in their care.
“In Greg’s experience, there were multiple times when he thought no news was good news but in fact, nothing was happening,” Greg’s father, David Price, said.
A 2013 report by the Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA) found that Price had been unable to access timely medical care because the system was unable to provide proper continuity of care. To address these problems, the HQCA recommended Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services move towards making an e-referral system available to all its users. Four years later, AHS says work is underway but a comprehensive e-referral system is still five to six years away.
“It is a very, very complex environment,” said Penny Rae, chief information officer of information technology for Alberta Health Services. “You have to import all of the facilities, all of the locations, all of the people. There’s a lot of standardization that needs to happen.”
Following the death of the patient known as “Mama G,” Edmonton family physician Dr. Denis Vincent decided to come up with an electronic referral solution of his own.
“This patient of mine was seen at emergency and referred to a surgeon by the emergency doctor, but the letter was faxed and she waited for two months,” Vincent said. “By the time she had surgery, it was already too late, the cancer had just started spreading.”
Vincent created an online software program called EZ Referral. The software allows users to track referrals between offices in realtime. Users are alerted if there are any delays.
“If a referral hasn’t been opened in a specified period of time, an alert pops up on our dashboard and it prompts us to follow up.”