CritiCall Ontario answers the call for critical care support

For many critical care or specialist physicians in Ontario, a call from CritiCall is nothing out of the ordinary. As a 24/7 telephone consultation and referral resource for hospital-based physicians caring for critically ill patients, CritiCall relies on physicians with expertise in a wide range of specialties to help make sure patients across Ontario have access to the care they need when the stakes are at their highest. And fortunately, many physicians are answering the call.

“Critical care is complex and time is always an issue,” says Dr. Avery Nathens, Medical Director for CritiCall Ontario. “CritiCall looks at critical care from a province-wide perspective and then works with that information to get the patient the right level of care, as quickly as possible.”

When a physician calls CritiCall for assistance, one of CritiCall’s Call Agents collects relevant patient information and then arranges a telephone consultation with an appropriate specialist. Together, the physicians determine the best course of action for the patient. In some cases, a consultation is enough to provide assurance that the patient can be cared for at the hospital in their community while other times, the patient may need to be referred to another hospital with higher level resources. If a referral is required, CritiCall will search for a hospital with the appropriate resources and expedite the transfer.

While relatively simple in theory, the process is actually quite complex, in part, because of the very fast-paced nature of critical care delivery. To address some of this challenge, CritiCall continues to refine its business processes and in the last year alone, introduced new technology into its Call Centre for telephone communication and call documentation to improve overall service delivery.

“The real value of our service comes from the physicians who provide consultations through CritiCall to help their peers right across Ontario,” says Kris Bailey, Executive Director for CritiCall Ontario. “We’re doing our best to use technology to help bring people together as efficiently as possible so we can all do what is best for the patient.”

CritiCall is funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care as a resource for physicians and provides a coordinated and documented approach to critical care. In keeping with this, physicians who use CritiCall for support or to provide support benefit from comprehensive documentation of the patient care process. Call data is compiled into reports available at the hospital, Local Health Integration Network and provincial level that detail each patient case and the types of services required. These data provide valuable information that can be used for health-care planning purposes and resource allocation.

From CritiCall’s perspective, this information helps to inform further business refinements that are often tested through pilot projects in partnership with other health-care providers. CritiCall is currently working on a number of pilot projects including the use of a dedicated bed registry for mental health resources; the use of remote access to head CT images to enhance neurosurgical consultations through CritiCall; and, in partnership with the Ontario Telemedicine Network, the potential of virtual critical care to assist patients in rural areas where transferring patients is not always the best option.

“Our business is solidly rooted in partnering with others to make the best use of critical care resources,” says Bailey. “In many cases, we have the opportunity to be innovators and try new approaches that bring people and technology together to streamline processes. It’s very exciting and we are able to make progress because physicians and others within the health-care system are willing to collaborate and work together to find solutions to persistent challenges.”

For more information about CritiCall Ontario, visit