Patient Family & Community Engagement | Global Perspective

Patients and family caregivers: perceptions of doctor-to-doctor advice and electronic referral notifications in Alberta

Effective communication between health professionals and patients is essential to patient safety and quality care. Primary care providers seeking specialist advice to manage patients’ conditions in the community has recently been adopted to improve timely access to specialty care and increase the efficacy of the referral process. To understand patients’ and family caregivers’ perceptions on doctor-to-doctor advice for non-urgent clinical questions and electronic referral communications with patients in Alberta, a mixed method online survey was conducted by Alberta Health Services’ Access Improvement team. A total of 1,422 patients and family caregivers living in Alberta were included in the quantitative and qualitative analysis. Although the majority of participants were comfortable with their doctors seeking advice via secure online messaging systems (93%) and over the phone (89%), about half of the participants did not know if their family doctors had ever obtained advice from a specialist to support their care. Their concerns surrounding doctor-to-doctor, non-urgent advice included the security of transferred information, privacy and confidentiality of patient information, misunderstanding of information, and delayed communication. In addition, 63% of participants reported that email was the most convenient way to receive electronic notifications about their referrals. Increasing patients’ and family caregivers’ awareness of advice services in Alberta will help promote person-centered care and improve communication during the referral and consultation process. Our findings also encourage healthcare providers and policymakers to further evaluate key areas for improvement and implement new strategies to promote better patient and provider communications while enhancing timely access to specialty care.