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The RACE goes province-wide

Dr. Ignaszewski was one of the partners who founded RACE
Dr. Andrew Ignaszewski, a St. Paul's cardiologist and a RACE co-founder

Since this story first ran, the RACE app that connects primary health practitioners to specialists for advice has undergone major improvements.

It has evolved into an integrated, BC-wide service managed by Providence Health Care.

The result is an app that is more streamlined, offering more efficient access for its physician users and bringing increased specialty knowledge and care to patients faster.

“Now, more than 80 medical specialties participate in RACE across BC,” says Anosha Afaq, Project Lead for Virtual Health & Shared Care at Providence. “Having one central contact point at Providence for practitioners has streamlined the process and is making sure specialists are consistently on hand.”

Anosha Afaq

She reports that the centralized RACE line currently receives approximately 1500 calls per month. “That is 1500 patients whose care is improved each month, or about 18,000 patients a year.”

As the BC-wide manager of the app, Providence now oversees:

  • Scheduling all specialities to ensure the process is streamlined and is consistent
  • Vetting new speciality groups and specialists and bringing them on board.
  • Bringing on new Primary Care Practitioners and providing them with the needed resources  
  • One administration help/support line to ensure all users have consistent information

Some of the specialties that have been added to the RACE service include:

Provincial specialties:

  • Allergy
  • Long-COVID-related illness
  • General Internal Medicine-Obesity
  • Work Safe BC


Fraser Valley:

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Rheumatology

RACE is supported with funding from the Shared Care Committee, a partnership between the Doctors of BC and the BC government.

When Delia Cooper made an appointment with her doctor to discuss her recurring sinus infections, she assumed the experience would be like others she had had – another MRI, a prescription for more antibiotics, but no end in sight to the chronic condition that was making her life miserable.

But this visit was different. This time, her family physician used the RACE line – short for Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise – to contact an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist who consulted on Cooper’s issue and helped get her off the medical merry-go-round and on a clear path to recovery.

“I had an appointment within a week, and this specialist wrote a wonderful letter and he referred me to another specialist who could actually help me,” says Cooper. “He used a new technique that addressed my problem both expediently and appropriately.”

RACE revs up access to specialty care 

The RACE line connects family physicians and nurse practitioners with scheduled specialists from a variety of specialty services though a single phone call, or via electronic request sent through the RACE app. The specialists usually return the physician’s call within minutes and provide on-the-spot, expert advice about the medical condition in question, including whether or not the patient needs to be referred to see a specialist in person.

Dr. Andrew Ignaszewski, a cardiologist at Providence Health Care and the Head of the Department of Medicine, was one of the program’s founders. Prior to RACE, there were often communication delays between family doctors and specialists. “Sometimes the only way to get speedy information would be to catch someone in the hallway or in the doctors’ lounges. It was really inconsistent.”

RACE is reducing needless Emergency visits

In 2010, Providence created the prototype for RACE in an effort to improve access to specialty care in Vancouver. The initiative was led by Providence’s Margot Wilson.

Encouraging initial results showed positive feedback from physicians and patients alike, as well as a marked reduction in face–to-face specialist consults and unnecessary visits to the Emergency Department. Now offering more than 45 specialty areas, the RACE line has logged more than 50,000 consults since its inception, and an average of 1,000 calls per month.

“Often patients don’t need a full consultation, just a question or two answered, and that shortens my waitlist,” says Dr. Ignaszewski. “RACE is all about giving the right advice to the right patient at the right time.”

Dr. Joanne Yang, a family physician in Vancouver, began calling RACE in 2011 and now uses the RACE app to connect with specialists roughly six times a month. “I consult radiology and neurology most often. For example, I might have an additional question about a medical imaging result and I cannot get a hold of the original reading radiologist, so I will phone the radiologist on-call for the RACE line and get additional information.”

For family physicians, RACE enhances their ability to manage a patient’s care within their office and to create a plan of care that is both timely and specialist-informed.

“Specialists on-call for the RACE line have been uniformly helpful, knowledgeable and friendly,” says Dr. Yang. “The feedback I’ve received from my patients has been very positive. They feel reassured that I have sought a specialist’s opinion in complex or unusual situations.”

RACE model has spread across Canada

Following the key principles that the Vancouver RACE program created, the model began to spread to other areas of the province to help to address the unique contexts and needs of rural physicians and patients. By 2015 the RACE model had expanded across British Columbia to all five geographical health authorities.

In June 2017, the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement launched the Connected Medicine Collaborative the goal of spreading two leading Canadian innovations – RACE and Champlain BASE™ eConsult Service –nation-wide. The results of this program after 18 months show that more than half of the consults led to an appropriately avoided face-to-face referral to a specialist, and two in five consults led to an appropriately avoided emergency department visit.

“Working with the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement to spread RACE nationally was an amazing experience,” says Margot Wilson, Director, Shared Care & Virtual Health with Providence Health Care. “It’s a great thing for patients.  If we can improve patient access to care for both rural and urban patients and simplify their health care journey, then we are headed in the right direction.”

Delia Cooper couldn’t agree more: “It changed my life for the better and I am able to sleep and breathe well at night again, so I have a lot more energy. This was the most stellar health care experience I have ever had in my life.”

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