Call volumes on the rise at CritiCall Ontario

More than 21,000 cases – that’s how many times CritiCall Ontario answered calls from Ontario physicians who needed assistance caring for a critically or emergently ill or injured patient this past year. In fact, for the past five years, call volumes at CritiCall Ontario have been on the rise with numbers typically increasing by about 1,000 cases per year. In 2011/2012, however, the numbers jumped by more than 3,000, which means these days, CritiCall Ontario is busier than ever.

CritiCall Ontario receives funding from the Provincial Programs Branch of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Its primary customers are Emergency Department physicians who find themselves caring for patients that may need resources their hospitals don’t have or who require the care of a particular type of medical specialist. Call Agents at CritiCall Ontario collect basic information from the contacting physician and then contact specialists at other Ontario hospitals to provide consultations directly to the physician and possibly accept the patient for transfer if necessary.

The concept is simple, however, the work that goes on behind the scenes facilitating each case can be extensive. In fact, the median number of calls made for each case is 10. Still the time it takes to garner acceptance for a patient in most cases is about 30 minutes. And a good deal of the credit goes to specialists working across the province who consistently answer calls from CritiCall Ontario and provide consultations to their peers during times of need.

“We have Medical Directors from across Ontario on-call 24/7 to provide guidance to our agents when facilitating difficult cases. We don’t have a team of medical professionals in-house providing clinical advice,” said Dr. Desmond Bohn, Provincial Medical Director for CritiCall Ontario. “We depend on the thousands of doctors in this province who take our calls and provide these very essential consultations to their peers over the telephone as quickly as possible.”

CritiCall Ontario’s focus is on knowing which type of specialist to contact for each case and which hospitals have the resources the patient requires most immediately available. Part of that knowledge comes from hospitals keeping their own resource information updated in two provincial systems. The first is the recently launched Provincial Hospital Resource System (PHRS).  The second is the Critical Care Information System (CCIS) that CritiCall Ontario manages on behalf of the Critical Care Secretariat. The PHRS is an updated version of the Provincial Bed Registry that has been available through CritiCall Ontario since the early 90’s. The PHRS enables CritiCall Ontario to view critical and acute care bed availability as updated by each hospital in Ontario. The system also provides some information about the types of critical and acute care services available at each hospital. Critical care bed information is supplied directly to the PHRS through the CCIS.

“As a provincial program, we really rely on having access to as much information as possible about what resources are available at Ontario hospitals. Since we are assisting with critically and emergently ill patients, we need this information to be as current as possible so that patients can be cared for quickly and efficiently, regardless of where they may live within Ontario,” said Donna Thomson, Executive Director of CritiCall Ontario. “We depend on hospitals to keep both resource and bed information up to date so we can assist them when they need help.”

CritiCall Ontario also supports the work of the Emergency Management Branch and having this type of information up to date and readily available is vitally important. It is particularly essential during times of local, regional or provincial crisis or disaster when a coordinated provincial response is necessary and patients may need to be moved or redirected to other hospitals.

“We’re excited to see demand for our service increasing each year,” said Donna, noting that some of the increase is likely attributable to the time CritiCall Ontario Client Relations Managers and others spend working directly with hospitals, provincial groups and other stakeholders to address challenges and streamline access to critical and emergent care whenever possible.  “We are very much part of the broader health care system and we will continue working with physicians and other partners across the province to improve access to care for Ontario residents.”