A team of health care workers from the Ottawa area has announced plans to study health care wait times in the NWT and whether a greater use of electronic consultations could improve services. 

Known as the eConsult team, the group consists of clinicians and innovators from four Ottawa health institutes who have developed a secure online platform for prompt communication between primary care providers and specialists, known as the Champlain BASE eConsult service.

The group won second place in a challenge known as the Infoway ImagineNation Challenges.

The challenge, which is organized by Canada Health Infoway, is celebrating its fifth year of challenges. Infoway is a federally funded group that aims to improve the health of Canadians through improved digital health services.

The award came with $30,000 in funding to look at how health authorities across the country can study and implement online consultations, some of which will go towards research in the North.

Dr. Clare Liddy is one of the physicians involved in the development of the eConsult service. She says the electronic system has proven to be effective in a number of regions in Canada, including Ottawa and Mississauga.

“In the Ottawa region, the response time to get that advice is one day on average instead of a several-month wait,” said Liddy.

“Only a third of the patients seen by this electronic service needed to go on to see a specialist face-to-face.”

The system works to cut down wait times by allowing family doctors and nurse practitioners to use the service to pose questions to specialists about their patient’s health, with response time averaging about two days.

Initially the service only included five services, such as dermatology-related cases, but quickly expanded to 84 because of its widespread use and need.

While some services in the North are offered through correspondence with specialists down south, the group plans to analyze current services offered to see whether the eConsult service could create efficiencies.

STUDENT TO VISIT YELLOWKNIFE FOR RESEARCH

The eConsult team will be using some of the $30,000 to send a student to Yellowknife in October, who will be studying the wait times in the North for specialist care.

The student will be in town for a week or two, once the group receives their POLAR approval – the official license by the GNWT to research in the territory.

When it comes to wait times, the team hopes to analyze what types of online services could improve services.

“She’s [the student] been doing a lot of work with me on cost estimates to try and show that because of the avoidance for the need to travel that this could be cost savings for governments,” said Liddy.

Patients in Yellowknife are often referred to Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa in situations where care isn’t available locally.

Researchers hope such a new, widespread online service could help prevent some of the need for medical travel by offering care and advice electronically when possible.

“Once we physically visit Yellowknife, we’ll be looking at what the wait times are,” said Liddy. “We always want to design the service for what the local community needs.”