The impact of integrating electronic referral within a musculoskeletal model of care on wait time to receive orthopedic care in Ontario

PLoS One. 2020 Nov 3;15(11):e0241624. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0241624. eCollection 2020.


An MSK model of care for hip and knee patients integrated with an electronic referral solution (eReferral) has been deployed within four subregions across Ontario. Referrals are sent from primary care offices to a central intake (CI), where the referral forms are reviewed and forwarded, if appropriate, to a rapid access clinic (RAC) where patients are assessed by an advanced practice clinician (APC). The pragmatic design of eReferral allows for a seamless flow of electronic orthopedic referrals from primary care to CI. It also enables CI to process and transcribe faxed referrals into the eReferral system for a smooth flow of data electronically to the RACs. In general, wait time is the time interval between receiving the patient's referral at CI or the surgeon's office until receiving the orthopedic surgeon's first consultation. Wait time is further broken down into wait 1 a and wait 1 b. Wait 1 a is the time between the receipt of the referral at CI until the date of the first initial assessment at the RAC. This study aimed at: a) assessing the processing time of orthopedic referrals at central intakes (CI) to be forwarded to the RAC, b) assessing the wait time (wait 1 a) of orthopedic referrals processed through the eReferral system to receive an initial assessment at the RACs. c) comparing the ability of the RACs to meet the target wait time for assessment (four weeks) by the method of referral (eReferrals vs. fax). d) evaluating patients' satisfaction with the length of time they waited to receive care at the RACs with eReferral. We used Ocean eReferral database to access MSK hip and knee referral data processed through the system. Patients whose referrals were initiated electronically through the system and opted to receive email notification of their referral status had the opportunity to take an online satisfaction survey embedded in the booked appointment notification message. There were 1,723 patients initially referred electronically for hip, and knee pain consults, while 13,780 referrals started as paper-based and transcribed into the system to be forwarded later electronically by CI to a RAC. Higher mean processing time at CI by 21.76 days for paper-based referral was detected as opposed to referrals received electronically (p<0.001). RACs took significantly less time to book appointments for referrals initiated electronically with a shorter average wait 1a of 21.42 days for eReferrals compared to paper-based referrals (p<0.001). RACs timeframe to book an appointment was significantly shorter for eReferrals versus fax referrals. A total of 393 patients completed the patient satisfaction survey with a response rate of 16%. Overall, 87.7% were satisfied with their experience with the eReferral process, and 81% agreed that they had waited a reasonable time to receive the needed care. eReferral can elicit faster processing of referrals and shorter wait time for patients, which improved patient satisfaction with the referral process.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Electronic Data Processing / standards
  • Electronic Health Records / organization & administration*
  • Electronic Health Records / statistics & numerical data
  • Hip / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Knee / pathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / therapy*
  • Ontario
  • Orthopedic Procedures / standards*
  • Orthopedic Procedures / statistics & numerical data
  • Referral and Consultation / organization & administration*
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Waiting Lists

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work