Journal of medical systems

Protocol-Driven Decision Support within e-Referral Systems to Streamline Patient Consultation, Triaging and Referrals from Primary Care to Specialist Clinics.

PMID 28766103


Patient referral is a protocol where the referring primary care physician refers the patient to a specialist for further treatment. The paper-based current referral process at times lead to communication and operational issues, resulting in either an unfulfilled referral request or an unnecessary referral request. Despite the availability of standardized referral protocols they are not readily applied because they are tedious and time-consuming, thus resulting in suboptimal referral requests. We present a semantic-web based Referral Knowledge Modeling and Execution Framework to computerize referral protocols, clinical guidelines and assessment tools in order to develop a computerized e-Referral system that offers protocol-based decision support to streamline and standardize the referral process. We have developed a Spinal Problem E-Referral (SPER) system that computerizes the Spinal Condition Consultation Protocol (SCCP) mandated by the Halifax Infirmary Division of Neurosurgery (Halifax, Canada) for referrals for spine related conditions (such as back pain). The SPER system executes the ontologically modeled SCCP to determine (i) patient's triaging option as per severity assessments stipulated by SCCP; and (b) clinical recommendations as per the clinical guidelines incorporated within SCCP. In operation, the SPER system identifies the critical cases and triages them for specialist referral, whereas for non-critical cases SPER system provides clinical guideline based recommendations to help the primary care physician effectively manage the patient. The SPER system has undergone a pilot usability study and was deemed to be easy to use by physicians with potential to improve the referral process within the Division of Neurosurgery at QEII Health Science Center, Halifax, Canada.