If it works in the north it has the potential to benefit all areas of the province.
Patients in northern Saskatchewan will now have better access to orthopedic specialists as physicians have started sharing patient referrals, so that patients can choose to take the next available appointment rather than waiting for a particular specialist.
Victoria Hospital's Department of Orthopedics in Prince Albert has introduced "pooled referrals", a process that gives patients the option of seeing the first available specialist who is qualified to treat their condition. Four orthopedic specialists work within the department.
"This is another innovative way to help streamline the surgical care process and provide better service to patients," Health Minister Don McMorris says. "I thank the specialists involved for working with the Ministry of Health to introduce this new option for patients."
Pooled referrals are part of the provincial government's commitment to improving access to surgical care. Wait times to see a specialist have been identified as one of the "bottlenecks" in the surgical care system.
"Pooled referrals streamline the referral process and ensure that patients will be seen by the most appropriate surgeon in the shortest time, hence reducing wait times," Orthopedic Surgeon and Department Head Dr. Shashi Brijlall adds.
"The main aim is to be patient-focused and to improve quality of care."
General surgeons in Prince Albert also plan to begin pooling referrals later this spring.
Several specialist group practices across Saskatchewan are currently using pooled referrals, and others are preparing to adopt the process. It has been shown to even out the workload between specialists, reduce the number of longest waiting patients and offer timely access when a specialist is away from the office for an extended period.
Pooling of referrals is endorsed by the Saskatchewan Medical Association, Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association and the province's Senior Medical Officers.
"The pooled referral system means faster access for my patients to the surgical care they need," Regina family physician and Senior Medical Officer Committee Chair Dr. Brian Laursen said. "Past experience with pooled referrals has taught me that for the non-emergent and non-urgent patient, this system offers the shortest wait for a consult with a specialist."
Patients may still opt for a specific surgeon if they wish, but they may end up waiting longer.
Pooled referrals are part of the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative (SkSI) four-year plan to improve surgical patients' experiences and reduce wait times.
The SkSI is working to provide all patients with the opportunity to have surgery within three months by 2014. More information is available at www.health.gov.sk.ca/surgical-initiative.
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