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Patient perspective: New eReferral system will ‘benefit everyone’ and ‘save lives’

Photo of Mary Ellen Rainey. A woman stands smiling at the camera. She has long blonde hair, glasses and she's wearing a purple jacket.

For mother-of-three Mary Ellen Rainey, the new eReferrals tool now being used by primary care providers, surgeons and Diagnostic Imaging (DI) teams across the province “worked like a charm.”

Nova Scotia launched the electronic referral model last March to help better manage and coordinate referrals to surgeons. The tool was expanded in the fall to also allow eReferrals for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and ultrasounds.

For Mary Ellen and husband Jan, their eReferrals experience began with their family doctor, Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan (commonly referred to her by patients as Dr. AJ), who works out of Coral Shared-Care Health Centre in central Halifax.

“It started when my son had some of the same symptoms I’d seen in his older brothers for celiac disease, so I went to see Dr. AJ, and sure enough, right away, (the test) came back positive,” Mary Ellen explained recently inside the IWK Health’s main campus on University Avenue.

“So, the next step was to have a consultation with a GI (gastroenterologist), so a specialist here at the IWK, and Dr. AJ told me about a new eReferrals service where I could get information every step of the way about the referral, and my son’s status, so I said, ‘sure, I’d love that,’ and it just worked excellent.”

Mary Ellen, who has previously gone through having older sons Donovan, 17, and Malcolm, 15, both diagnosed with celiac disease. 

She described the difference experienced by her family in finalizing the diagnosis for 10-year-old Kieran has been much more efficient and very much less frustrating – thanks to eReferrals.

“Dr. AJ sent in the referral, and the same day I got an email confirming it,” Mary Ellen said of how quick and easy the system works. “I think within a day or two, we had an appointment time; we came for the appointment and the consult with Dr. Mohsin Rashid.”

As a family-of-five, Jan, Mary Ellen and their three boys are no strangers to the IWK and navigating Nova Scotia’s healthcare system. 

For this Halifax family, eReferrals “take away the anxiety because you don’t know, often, if a referral has gone through, if the receiving clinic has in fact received it, and often you don’t know when your appointment is going to be for months,” Mary Ellen said. 

“But this system was very quick and just gave us peace of mind that it was being handled.” 

The electronic referral process is supported by central surgical intake teams and a provincial queue for diagnostic imaging. This allows patients to be matched with options that best fit their needs and wishes. This might include their healthcare provider requesting a certain surgeon or diagnostic imaging site, or noting that they would be willing to travel if they could receive care sooner. 

Patient Craig Maclaren, 50, whose family has a history of colon cancer, also learned about eReferrals through Dr. AJ, and as director of operations for a food services company based in Dartmouth, believes Nova Scotia’s healthcare system is past due when it comes to bringing an electronic referral system online across the province.

“From the outside looking in, I’m an operations guy, and I see the eReferrals system as innovative,” the Halifax resident said, adding it’s high time Nova Scotia moved from paper faxes to online technology. “This is an opportunity to make better use of the resources that we have in the province.”

He appreciated that the eReferrals tool allowed Dr. AJ to flag that he would be willing to go to another hospital in the province if the wait was shorter for him.

Maclaren thinks the use of eReferrals is indeed “critical.”

“This will save people’s lives,” he said.

The Rainey family couldn’t agree more. 

“Primary care providers can see that the referral has been made and get the information right away about their patients,” Mary Ellen said. “And there will be much less paperwork getting lost along the way.”

Nova Scotians, meanwhile, will experience the same peace of mind they had, knowing the referral has been made and where they are in the process, adding she recommends providing your email address, so you’ll receive those regular updates on where your referral stands in the system.

“You’re not left wondering, ‘did they get the referral, do I need to call, do I need my doctor’s office to call’, so it’s really good that way,” she said. “This will be a benefit for everyone.”

You can learn more about eReferrals at

The launch of electronic referrals is a commitment within government’s Action for Health Plan and supports overall efforts to improve access to surgical and Diagnostic Imaging services for Nova Scotians.

Primary care providers, surgeons and Diagnostic Imaging teams are now using the tool to support referrals to these services and other services and healthcare providers are also expected to be added over time. 

Photo of Mary Ellen Rainey.

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