To obtain improved quality information regarding psychiatrist waiting times by use of a novel methodological approach in which accessibility and wait times are determined by a real-time patient referral procedure.
An adult male patient with depression was referred for psychiatric assessment by a family physician. Consecutive calls were made to all registered psychiatrists (n = 297) in Vancouver. A semistructured call procedure was used to collect information about the psychiatrists' availability for receipt of this and similar referrals, identify factors that affect psychiatrist accessibility, and determine the availability of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT).
Efforts were made to contact 297 psychiatrists and 230 (77%) were reached successfully. Among the 230 psychiatrists contacted, 160 (70%) indicated that they were unable to accept the referral. Although 70 (30%) indicated that they might be able to consider accepting a referral, 64 (91% of those who would consider accepting the referral) indicated that they would need to review detailed, written referral information and could not provide estimates of the length of wait times if the patient was to be accepted. Only 6 (3% of the 230 psychiatrists contacted) offered immediate appointment times and their wait times ranged from 4 to 55 days. When asked whether they could provide CBT, most (56%) psychiatrists in clinical practice answered maybe.
Substantial barriers exist for family physicians attempting to refer patients for psychiatric referral. Consolidated efforts to improve access to psychiatric assessment are needed.