Our healthcare system is faced with a number of challenges, from overcrowded emergency departments to long wait times for specialist care. In order to improve access to care and reduce overuse of emergency departments, many healthcare providers are turning to a solutions that can make specialist consultation more effective. These innovative technologies offers a range of benefits, from connecting primary care providers with specialists in real-time to bringing specialist insights to patients. In this article, we'll explore how synchronous phone consultations can help reduce overuse of emergency departments and improve access to care.

Emergency departments are often overcrowded and overburdened, leading to long wait times and delayed care for patients who need it most. One solution to this problem is the use of synchronous phone consultations, which can help reduce overuse of emergency departments by improving access to primary care providers and specialists.

The Problem

Emergency departments are overcrowded, leading to long wait times and delayed care for patients who need it most. Patients stuck on specialist waitlists are ER admissions in the making. The longer a person waits, the more likely they are to require urgent or emergent care. High frequency ER patients are often a result of inability to manage complex comorbidities. With growing specialist waitlists, the percentage of patients going untreated increases, and as a result so will potentially avoidable admissions. Are increasing ER admissions in part caused by increasing waitlists?

The Solution

Synchronous provider-to-provider phone consultations can reduce overuse of emergency departments by improving access to specialists. In traditional healthcare systems, primary care providers often have to refer patients to specialists for further evaluation and treatment. However, this process can be slow and cumbersome, and patients may have to wait months or even years to see a specialist. This wait time can lead to patients showing up in the emergency department with complex, chronic conditions that could have been managed earlier with specialist input.

The Benefits

Synchronous phone consultations offer a number of benefits. By allowing primary care providers and specialists to have a synchronous dialogue, it helps ensure that all parties are on the same page when discussing patient care. This can lead to better collaboration and more effective treatment plans, which can reduce the need for emergency department visits. Direct collaborative communication between providers can take efficiency to the next level. By exchanging information directly, doctors can avoid the time-consuming process of reviewing patient files, scheduling appointments, and waiting for specialist feedback. This direct communication not only saves time but also increases the likelihood of the advice being actioned.

Asynchronous Solutions

Asynchronous solutions like e-consults can also be part of the solution. E-consults allow primary care providers to send a secure message to a specialist, who can then review the patient's case and provide recommendations. This can help reduce the need for in-person specialist referrals, which can be unnecessary and time-consuming. This is particularly important for patients who are stuck on waitlists and may not be able to see a specialist in person for months.

Case Ilustration

Let's consider the case of a patient with borderline personality disorder and a substance use disorder, who had longstanding difficulty stabilizing their condition. This patient was previously a frequent visitor to the emergency department of a regional hospital in a rural area, staffed mainly by family doctors. Unfortunately, there were no psychiatrists in the area, and even though this patient had a family doctor, they were unable to get the patient to be seen by a psychiatrist in the closest urban centre (a 4-hour drive away).

Without psychiatric advice and support, the family doctor was limited in their ability to help the patient manage their conditions effectively. The result was that this patient frequently visited the emergency department for symptoms related to their mental health and substance use disorders.

However, after implementing phone consultations between primary care providers and psychiatrists, the family doctor was able to collaborate with specialists in real-time to develop more effective treatment plans for this particular patient. With ongoing support from these specialists via synchronous phone consultations, the family doctor was able to better manage this complex case.

As a result of these consults, this patient is no longer frequenting the emergency department unnecessarily. Thanks to improved access to expert advice and collaborative communication between providers involved in their care through these efficient consults, this patient is now receiving adequate care without having to travel long distances or wait months for specialist appointments. This demonstrates how powerful synchronous phone consultations can be in improving access to care and reducing overuse of emergency departments for patients with complex comorbidities living in rural areas where specialist resources may be scarce.


Phone consultations are a promising solution to the challenges facing our healthcare system today. By connecting primary care providers with specialists in real-time, phone consultations can help address issues before complications arise, reducing the need for emergency department visits. Additionally, asynchronous solutions like e-consults can also be part of the solution by reducing the need for in-person specialist referrals. Overall, phone consultations are powerful tools for improving access to care and reducing overuse of emergency departments. By reducing the number of potentially avoidable admissions, we can help alleviate the burden on emergency departments and improve patient outcomes.

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