Publications Publication - Exploring the implementation and underlying mechanisms of centralized referral systems to access specialized health services in Quebec

Une publication de Jessica Spagnolo et collègues, soutenue par le RRSPQ suite au concours de soutien à la publication 2021-2022. BMC Health Services Research 21 (2021) accès libre


  • Jessica Spagnolo
  • Mylaine Breton
  • Martin Sasseville
  • Carine Sauvé
  • Jean‑François Clément
  • Richard Fleet
  • Marie‑Claude Tremblay
  • Cloé Rodrigue
  • Camille Lebel
  • Marie Beauséjour

Résumé des auteur.e.s


In 2016, Quebec, a Canadian province, implemented a program to improve access to specialized health services (Accès priorisé aux services spécialisés (APSS)), which includes single regional access points for processing requests to such services via primary care (Centre de répartition des demandes de services (CRDS)). Family physicians fill out and submit requests for initial consultations with specialists using a standardized form with predefined prioritization levels according to listed reasons for consultations, which is then sent to the centralized referral system (the CRDS) where consultations with specialists are assigned. We 1) described the APSS-CRDS program in three Quebec regions using logic models; 2) compared similarities and differences in the components and processes of the APSS-CRDS models; and 3) explored contextual factors influencing the models’ similarities and differences.


We relied on a qualitative study to develop logic models of the implemented APSS-CRDS program in three regions. Semi-structured interviews with health administrators (n = 9) were conducted. The interviews were analysed using a framework analysis approach according to the APSS-CRDS’s components included in the initially designed program, Mitchell and Lewis (2003)’s logic model framework, and Chaudoir and colleagues (2013)’s framework on contextual factors’ influence on an innovation’s implementation.


Findings show the APSS-CRDS program’s regional variability in the implementation of its components, including its structure (centralized/decentralized), human resources involved in implementation and operation, processes to obtain specialists’ availability and assess/relay requests, as well as monitoring methods. Variability may be explained by contextual factors’ influence, like ministerial and medical associations’ involvement, collaborations, the context’s implementation readiness, physician practice characteristics, and the program’s adaptability.


Findings are useful to inform decision-makers on the design of programs like the APSS-CRDS, which aim to improve access to specialists, the essential components for the design of these types of interventions, and how contextual factors may influence program implementation. Variability in program design is important to consider as it may influence anticipated effects, a next step for the research team. Results may also inform stakeholders should they wish to implement similar programs to increase access to specialized health services via primary care.