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Just a phone call away

What started as a pilot at St. Paul’s has turned into a national program that puts family physicians in touch with nearly 40 different specialists.

When your family doctor says those dreaded words, “You need to see a specialist,” it probably brings up some anxiety, and then the resignation that you are likely facing a weeks-long wait, maybe even months, before you get an appointment.

But with an innovative model of shared care developed at St. Paul’s Hospital that has recently gone national, the specialist is always in. 

It all started 10 years ago as a pilot project involving three St. Paul’s cardiologists sharing a pager, allowing family doctors at Providence to contact them directly to get a timely response to questions.

Putting specialists just a phone call away, the pager program was a huge success and the family doctors asked for the service to expand to more specialty areas.

That’s how the Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise line (RACE) was launched. Now, eight years and 35,000 calls later, there are 38 different specialists available on the Vancouver RACE line including eating disorders, psychiatry, medical refugee health and sleep disorders. The service is available to family physicians across BC.

Calls to the RACE line are supposed to be returned within two hours, but four out of five calls are returned much faster — within as few as 10 minutes — often when the patient is still in the family physician’s office.

Each call results in up to $200 in direct cost avoidance, due to a third of the calls keeping patients from the Emergency Department, and 60 per cent of patients no longer needing a face-to-face visit.