ConsultLoop was born out of frustration we felt on behalf of our patients. Unfortunately, this scenario plays out too often in the case of referrals. Sometimes, a referral goes missing, and the patient never hears anything from anyone until months have passed and they catch me off guard with the question of “what happened?”. Other times, they walk out of my clinic with nothing but the weak assurance that someone will call them, but if they don’t hear anything in two weeks, to call back. Imagine any other service where such a statement were made: “Here’s your chicken, but it it’s still raw on the inside I’ll put it back on the grill”. Feel confident?
As we reflected on how we refer patients, we realized just how passive they were. We rarely consider alternatives and often select based on convenience. Sometimes a patient will ask me for a recommendation or for me to send them to the “best” specialist. I always disappoint them when I tell them I’ve never met nearly all of the specialists I’ve referred to, and unless a patient complains I keep using them. Hardly an endorsement. Patients should be more empowered than to be left to being led passively through the health care system where there’s very little consideration and thought given to some of the decisions made about their health. Could there be a sooner appointment with another doctor? Is there another doctor who’s practice is focused on this particular issue? We hardly ever check because it is so difficult to find this information, and so we hardly ever know.
We conducted a survey of Ontarians and asked them to describe the referral process in three words. It was nearly 50-50 in terms of positive and negative words, but the negative words surprised us. Though expected adjectives like slow, bureaucratic and complicated came up, patients also described very negative emotions. Consider these responses: concerning, confusing, depressing, frustrating, irritating, scary, stressful. How could I as a doctor impose such a feeling on my patients through something happening in my office? It was our rejection of this that led us to build ConsultLoop.
ConsultLoop is also inspired by the idea that the patient should be kept up to date of new information pertaining to their referral. They should know who the referral was sent to, should get an update as soon as a time is assigned so they can rearrange plans rather than wait for someone to call them. They should also get clear instructions, in writing, so things don’t get missed and the appointment they so patiently waited for isn’t wasted because they didn’t follow some key request they didn’t even know about.
Patients deserve to be more empowered, informed and involved in the referral process. The current process for referrals leaves them passive and helpless and misses an opportunity to signal to the patient that they are being cared for. ConsultLoop gives patients a chance to consider options when being referred, and updates them as if they were a true stakeholder in the process. We empower them through choice, inform them through key functions in our software and most importantly, involve them in their health as equals. If the cost of not doing so is a scared and frustrated patient, it’s a cost too high for any of us to tolerate.