New program helps improve access to specialists

December 21, 2022

EDMONTON – Patients referred to a urologist or orthopedic surgeon will benefit from a new program that helps their family doctor find them a specialist with the shortest wait time.

The Alberta Facilitated Access to Specialized Treatment (FAST) program enables family doctors and other providers to send referrals to a central team, which then assigns the referral to a specialist with the shortest wait-list.

“The FAST program is an important step in the Alberta Surgical Initiative that will cut wait times at every step of a patient’s surgical journey,” says Jason Copping, Minister of Health. “This program will help patients see a specialist faster after they have received a referral from their primary care provider, and streamlines the process for busy family doctors, who can send their referrals to one place rather than sending to multiple different specialists.”

Alberta Health Services (AHS), in partnership with Alberta Health, developed the Alberta Surgical Initiative (ASI), a plan that strives to ensure that all Albertans will receive their scheduled surgeries within clinically appropriate wait times.

The provincial FAST program, which already existed in Edmonton, has been rolling out in phases across the rest of the province since August. Since then, the program has handled more than 15,000 referrals for a urologist or orthopedic surgeon.

“FAST is aimed at reducing wait times but it also gives patients choice in their care,“ says Mauro Chies, AHS Interim President and Chief Executive Officer. “With FAST, family doctors can request their patient be referred to the next available specialist, or they can request a specific specialist or a specific location that the patient and their doctor have decided works best for the patient and their family. The whole program aims to improve how patients and providers experience care.”

Dr. Joseph Ojedokun, a family physician based in Whitecourt, says the program has made a positive difference for his patients and his practice.

“For primary care, FAST has become the fastest distribution vehicle for referral sorting and distribution to specialists,” says Dr. Ojedokun. “Patients and referring physicians are most grateful to have a single distribution point for all referrals; one good step toward improving access.”

The FAST program will expand to all surgical specialties in the upcoming months. To support the roll out of FAST, providers and patients are invited to share their referral and consultation experiences through an online survey.

“Collaboration has been key to making this program a reality,” says Dr. Paul Petrasek, Senior Medical Director with the Surgery Strategic Clinical Network and a vascular surgeon. “Primary care providers, specialists, operational staff, and patient and family advisors are all working together to ensure this program is a success.”

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.