After more than 10 years: CritiCall still a valuable tool for hospital physicians


Physicians in Ontario community hospitals have a vital link to the resources of larger, more specialized hospitals in their region and the province thanks to a program based in Hamilton.

The Ontario CritiCall Program is an emergency-referral service for hospital-based physicians in the province. As a key component in Ontario’s overall Critical Care Strategy, it is the one-number-to-call, 24-hour-a-day referral service for physicians caring for seriously ill patients in Ontario. The Program is a ‘medical 9-1-1’ for physicians and assists in contacting on-call specialists and arranging for appropriate hospital beds. CritiCall has been Ontario’s sole emergency patient referral program since 1996.

By calling CritiCall’s toll free number that is answered 24 hours -a -day, seven days a week, physicians in community hospitals who require assistance for critically ill patients can be put in touch with a specialist – fast.

When a physician contacts CritiCall, a specially trained Call Taker answers the call and asks specific questions for each situation. All of the questions are relevant to the placement of a patient and are specific to the specialty the patient requires. From that point, the Call Taker contacts a medical specialist at the most appropriate hospital for the patient. Once the ‘receiving’ physician is called, the two physicians are connected to discuss the patient’s health status. From there, the physicians determine if the patient can receive the care required where they are or if a transfer to a tertiary care centre is necessary. Sometimes, a consultation is all that is needed and the call ends after the physicians talk. However, if the patient requires a transfer to another hospital, CritiCall can help facilitate the transfer. CritiCall stays with the call until the patient arrives at the final destination.

“The Ontario CritiCall Program facilitates emergency communication between physicians across the province,” says Dr. Frank Baillie, CritiCall’s provincial medical director. “Our goal has been to lessen the complexity of navigating the healthcare system for physicians in emergency situations. By providing strategies that identify who does what where, and how to contact them, we help ensure physicians can spend more time with their emergency patients instead of on the phone.” In 2006-2007, the Program received close to 13,000 physician calls.

“The CritiCall Call Centre is helpful, efficient, and readily accesses medical resources when required,” says Dr. Tracy Hayes, from the Emergency Department of the Sudbury Regional Hospital, St. Joseph’s Health Centre site.

In order to operate efficiently and effectively, the Ontario CritiCall Program relies on its internet-based Ontario Central Bed and Resource Registry. The on-line, secure Registry is regularly updated by more than 140 Ontario hospitals and provides immediate access to bed and resource availability for each hospital and contact information for on-call physicians in more than 55 medical specialties.

“Entering information into the Bed and Resource registry is fast, easy and simple,” said Tammy Moore, Emergency Department ward clerk, Sudbury Regional Hospital, St. Joseph’s Health Centre site.

In addition, CritiCall can assist with placing critical patients during an emergency situation, whether it’s a power loss, a disaster or an outbreak.

During an emergency or disaster, CritiCall can assist with alerting area hospitals, alerting Trauma / Burn / ICU specialists, confirm bed availability in and out of the region all in preparation to handle the disaster and non-disaster decanting of critically ill or wounded patients. By having CritiCall assist with the patient transfers, hospital and nursing staff can focus on patient care.

CritiCall is supported by an executive director, an operations manager, 18 call takers, and support staff located in the Hamilton office as well as nine medical directors and six regional project managers located throughout Ontario.

In January 2008, continued implementation, management and operations of the Critical Care Information System (CCIS) will be transitioned to the Ontario CritiCall Program.

CritiCall is funded by the Hospital’s Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The Program is managed by Hamilton Health Sciences and is based at the Henderson General Hospital.

For more information about the Ontario CritiCall Program, go to