Service recognized for increasing access to specialist care

A direct line has been linking family practitioners to specialists in Northern B.C.

A health care project that started three years ago has been recognized for successfully increasing access to specialist care in Northern B.C.

The ‘northern RACE line’ allows family physicians working in rural and remote areas to have rapid access to the help that their patients need. The service links general practitioners to specialists with a direct telephone line.

According to Sonya Kruger, Communications Officer for the Northern Medical Program, not only are patients receiving care more quickly, but in many cases, the telephone advice was all that was needed, and a referral was no longer required.

“This has saved many from the burden of travelling to and from Prince George for a specialist appointment – a journey that can be long, arduous and expensive,” she said. “For the physicians, the northern RACE line has provided the mechanism to improve communication with their colleagues for a more coordinated approach to the shared care of their patients.”

Since the line was instituted three years ago, the number of calls has increased from eight to 37 calls per month, and the number of available specialties grew from one to 13. To date, the line has received a total of 877 calls, including calls from family physicians in Burns Lake.

The project was developed by Prince George doctors Haidar Hadi and Dan Horvat, who recently received the health and wellness innovator of the year award for increasing access to specialist care in the north.

“Improved access to specialist physicians by family physicians allows for more rapid solutions for patients,” said Dr. Horvat. “This leads to more timely quality care for citizens and patients and reduces the need for not only waits but also travel.”

General practitioners in Northern B.C. wishing to seek advice from a specialist simply have to call a 1-800 hotline to be directly connected to the specialist service they require, or to leave a message for a return call. Within two hours, a specialist will respond to provide a quick consult regarding diagnosis, treatment, medication, or other advice the general practitioner may need regarding their patient’s care.

“Family physicians can feel more confident of being supported and being able to provide high quality care in a timely fashion,” added Dr. Horvat.

The northern RACE line was created as part of the ‘northern partners in care’ initiative, which focuses on helping northern family and specialist physicians improve access to quality care in Northern B.C.

Northern partners in care, a partnership of Doctors of B.C. and the provincial government, works with the belief that enhancing support for family physicians and nurse practitioners in the north will assist with physician recruitment and retention.