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Patients: how to get help when there’s a waitlist to see a specialist

Wait times to see specialists are long. The median wait time in Canada to see a specialist is nearly five months, and depending on the province you are living in, it can be as long as 53 weeks. While governments and physicians are continually looking for solutions to these problems, if you are one of these people waiting, it can be frightening and make you feel helpless. 

Fortunately, there are some things you can do while you’re on a waitlist to try and manage your condition and get the help you need sooner.

Speak to your primary care clinician

Your family physician is the quarterback for your care and your biggest ally. Consider speaking with your family physician about the wait. They can ensure that the referral has been received by the specialist, check in with the specialist’s clinic to see if your case has been triaged appropriately, and if necessary, refer you to another specialist with shorter wait times. In some cases, if your case is urgent, your physician may refer you to a specialist on-call.

Contact the specialist’s office

It can sometimes help to call the specialist’s office to see where you are at in the queue. Sometimes, there will be a last minute cancellation, and if you are top of mind for the booking staff, you might get a sooner appointment. This approach, however, must not be overused. Administrative staff are often busy, so calling too often may not lead to the desired result. Your best bet would be to call and ask if there is any way that you might be able to be seen sooner. The administrative staff will tell you their clinic’s approach, and you can follow their advice from there. 

Consider an online specialist

A number of virtual options for seeing specialists have popped up in Canada, and in many cases the wait to see these specialists is substantially shorter. You can look into these options as a possibility for getting specialist care sooner, though before booking your appointment it is best to run it by your family physician to ensure that it will work for your situation. 

Allied Health

Many conditions for which you are referred to a specialist can be treated by other health professions. As an example, many mental health conditions can be treated with psychotherapy from a psychologist. Some pain and musculoskeletal conditions can be treated with physiotherapy. While you still might need a medical specialist consultation in the end, these allied health professions can often help your symptoms along the way. Your family physician will be able to guide you through these options.

Peer to Peer consultation

Your family physician might be able to much more quickly get a specialist’s opinion on your condition through a category of consultations called ‘peer-to-peer’. These involve the family physician speaking directly to the specialist about your case and getting direction from them. These consultations can be completed through electronic consultation, or phone calls and can drastically reduce your wait time to specialist input.

Emergency Room

If you are feeling severely unwell, and aren’t sure what to do, visit your local emergency room. The emergency room might be able to provide some immediate assistance. 

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