Saskatchewan Ministry of Health

Playing the waiting game is never fun for anyone – especially when it involves health and well-being.

That’s why CFHI is supporting improvement teams in enhancing primary healthcare access to specialist consult services using electronic and/or telephone consult.

This month we spoke to Melissa Kimens, Senior Project Manager at Saskatchewan Health – one of the 10 improvement teams in CFHI’s ACCESS to Specialist Consult eCollaborative – about how her organization is working to quell anxieties faced by patients in the doctor’s office.


Saskatchewan Ministry of Health


Serendipitous timing

The timing of the ACCESS Collaborative was very serendipitous for Saskatchewan Health, according to Kimens. The organization launched a program entitled Leveraging Immediate Non-urgent Knowledge (LINK) in February of 2016 just as the ACCESS e-Collaborative was sending out invitations for participation.

“LINK is a telephone service that provides family physicians with immediate access to specialists for non-urgent consultations,” said Kimens.

Joining the ACCESS Collaborative was an easy decision for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health: ACCESS would give them an opportunity to learn what was working elsewhere, and see how others were overcoming obstacles that Saskatchewan Health might have faced with LINK.

The missing LINK

LINK – is a provincial service that is saving patients time, expense and, most of all, anxiety by providing them with answers to their health concerns sooner through their family doctor.  

“Family physicians are supported to work to their full scope of practice, and benefit from the educational nature of the conversation.”

The need for a service like LINK came in November 2013, when a visioning session with family physicians, specialists, patient and family advisors and other healthcare professionals identified a missing gap: part of the long wait between seeing a primary care physician and having a consultation with a specialist.

This vision was validated in 2014 when the Ministry’s project team consulted with physicians in health regions across the province.

“We heard from our physicians that a nonface-to-face consultation service would be useful, and their preference was to start with a telephone-based service.”

A phone call away

The LINK service is now up and running in Saskatchewan, offering immediate non-urgent phone consultations with adult psychiatry from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Kimens says that their next goal is to expand the service to include other specialities. “The plan is to have three or four new groups participating within a year.”

Even though the service is in early beginnings, Kimens noted the impact of LINK has been very encouraging.

LINK data  indicates that 50% of calls avoid a referral; over 20% avoid emergency department visits; 26% avoid a prescription; and 23% avoid a treatment, “demonstrating that patients are receiving answers  sooner,” said Kimens.

Access to more

For Saskatchewan Health, the greatest advantage of participating in the ACCESS Collaborative has been – quite literally – the access to key individuals behind pioneering e-consult and telephone consult programs, and the dedicated attention and support from faculty members.

“It’s also been useful to learn of the other projects underway across the country and beyond, and how they are clearing similar obstacles that we’ve faced.”

What’s the most useful thing that Saskatchewan Health has gained from the collaborative? “Practical advice on measurement and evaluation,” said Kimens. “It’s helpful to learn what data other services collect, how it is collected and how it is used.”

Shoulder-to-shoulder

The Saskatchewan Health team is composed of two parts: two clinical leads and Ministry staff. The clinical leads guide the development of LINK to ensure that it provides the necessary consult support without disrupting either physician’s workflow. On the other end, Ministry staff are responsible for implementing the service, recruiting and onboarding new specialists, and analysing the data collected.

Kimens believes that it’s vital to have clinicians as part of quality improvement efforts, as they are the customers and providers of the service.

The team’s steering committee, consisting of patient and family advisors, specialists, family physicians, nurses and senior leaders from health regions and the Saskatchewan Medical Association, are all integral to the program’s success.

“The committee has provided direction and advice regarding recruitment priorities, as well as support within their networks of influence.” 

Moving forward

The LINK service is embedded in a province where innovation is widely recognized as essential for the health system.

And although the service is enabled by a simple telephone, “the innovation comes from the communications between providers it facilitates, for the immediate benefit of the patient.”