Specialist LINK a big hit with physicians

September 20, 2018


The Specialist LINK tele-advice line has proven to be a big hit with Calgary-area physicians, with a new survey showing almost three out of four are using the fast-growing service. More than 70% of users also said it improved their management of patients.

The report, conducted by Alberta Health Services and based on the responses of more than 250 randomly-selected local Primary Care Network physicians, shows almost 90% of respondents were aware of the service, a real-time advice line that connects family doctors with specialists. Calls are returned within one hour.

More than half of physicians (55%) knew about the clinical pathways available at and 74% of those reported accessing and using the pathways in their clinical practice.

“I’d like to thank all the physicians who took part in this survey. The very high level of awareness about Specialist LINK reflects the positive feedback we’ve heard from physicians since the first tele-advice service was launched in 2014,” said Dr. Rick Ward, Medical Director, Primary Care, AHS – Calgary Zone. “The results also show the benefits of specialty and primary care working together to improve access and ensure patients are receiving the care they need, when they need it.”

“This survey highlights the impact Specialist LINK has had on family doctors and, ultimately, the care they provide to their patients,” said Dr. Linda Slocombe, chair of the Health Systems Support group that developed Specialist LINK. “Despite our rapid growth in recent years, the demand for new services to be added remains strong. New clinical pathways are in development and we’re working on exciting plans to add more groups and specialties to the tele-advice line.”

Survey highlights include:

  • 89% of family physicians are aware of Specialist LINK
  • 72% use it in their practice
  • Of those, 36% have used it more than five times
  • 73% said using Specialist LINK changed their patient management
  • Female family physicians are 2.6 times more likely to be aware of the service compared to their male counterparts
  • Doctors with less than five years of experience were 4.6 times more likely to be aware of Specialist LINK
  • 55% are aware of the clinical pathways
  • Of those, 74% are accessing and following pathways in their practice
  • 78% of users said the pathways have changed their clinical practice

Specialist LINK was launched in late 2014 as part of a unique partnership between Alberta Health Services, the seven Calgary and area PCNs and specialists. Family doctors immediately began seeing the benefits of collaborating with a specialist to confirm treatment plans. Gastroenterology was the first specialty offered through the service, which has since grown 14 specialties or groups. Clinical care pathways are also available for download via

The goal of both services is ultimately to improve patient care. They also improve access and have resulted in shorter wait times for specialists, a reduction in unnecessary specialty visits and large cost savings. The tele-advice alone is estimated to have saved the health care system almost $1 million in its first four years of operation.

The survey was conducted from March to May 2018 in all seven Calgary and area PCNs. Responses were gathered via a paper survey, a telephone survey and an in-clinic survey. The sample size used had statistically significant findings with a 10% margin of error. Around 54 per cent of participants were female, while 64 per cent had five or more years of experience as a family physician. About 87% of participants were working in an urban setting.

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