Access to specialist care is a point of concern for patients, primary care providers, and specialists in Canada. Innovative e-health platforms such as electronic consultation (eConsultation) and referral (eReferral) can improve access to specialist care. These systems allow physicians to communicate asynchronously and could reduce the number of unnecessary referrals that clog wait lists, provide a record of the patient's journey through the referral system, and lead to more efficient visits. Little is known about the current state of eConsultation and eReferral in Canada. The purpose of this work was to identify current systems and gain insight into the design and implementation process of existing systems. An environmental scan approach was used, consisting of a systematic and grey literature review, and targeted semi-structured key informant interviews. Only three eConsultation/eReferral systems are currently in operation in Canada. Four themes emerged from the interviews: eReferral is an end goal for those provinces without an active eReferral system, re-organization of the referral process is a necessity prior to automation, engaging the end-user is essential, and technological incompatibilities are major impediments to progress. Despite the acknowledged need to improve the referral system and increase government spending on health information technology, eConsultation and eReferral systems remain scarce as Canada lags behind the rest of the developed world.
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