Bone & joint health Featured

A primary care practitioner’s experiences with getting his patients through for hip and knee assessments/surgery smoothly and efficiently

Dr. James Vavougios
Written by Nadia Radovini

Sunnybrook’s Holland Orthopaedic & Arthritic Centre is a part of the Toronto Region Rapid Access Clinic for Hip and Knees, as well as a partnering hospital of the Toronto Regional Arthroplasty Collaborative – the group behind over a year of “weekend” hip and knee surgeries that have directly contributed to a reduction in the waitlist backlog for hip and knee arthroplasty in Ontario.

To spread the word that our Toronto-area hospital collaborations are open for business – with an approximate four-to-six week wait for patients to see a specialist for their hip or knee arthritis – we recently caught up with Dr. James (Jim) Vavougios, a family physician in East York, before an appointment with one of our mutual patients. Here’s what he had to share.

How long have you been practicing family medicine in the community?

40 years, but not yet ready to retire! I don’t want to give up all my skills, I diagnose now better than ever before. 32 years here on the Danforth, along with my colleague James; we were buddies since grade 7, and opened this practice together.

We’re here today to chat a bit about your experiences as a family doctor who refers your patients in to the Toronto Region Rapid Access Clinic for Hip and Knees – but we understand you have a unique perspective as you’ve also been a patient yourself for knee replacement and rehabilitation?

That’s correct. I’ve had lots of experience as a patient, too. I’ve had a knee replacement at Sunnybrook’s Holland Orthopaedic & Arthritic Centre. I went on to have my rotator cuff done and both shoulders repaired there. The service was great for me and for my patients, too. I like that the people there specialize in their area.

Referring patients through the centralized intake for the Rapid Access Clinic, they get a quick assessment and the process is streamlined, which is nice. The Rapid Access Clinic’s model works well, as for a lot of patients, they may just want an opinion and some of the patients aren’t ready for surgery yet. Some will go through the GLA:D exercise program, delay the progression or worsening of their arthritis symptoms for a few years, and then they’re ready for surgery. When they know their doctor had it done too, they feel more comfortable.

It’s like anything, when you believe in something yourself, you give off positivity. If you have had a negative experience, then you won’t talk about it.

Is there a situation or recollection that stands out of your experiences referring your patients for hip and knee surgery?

Sometimes it’s a surprise how the patient is going to react. I’m always a little nervous for my patients, and with new doctors on board, you ask yourself “Are they going to do a great job?” It’s always excellent. It’s satisfying when a patient comes back, you think a particular patient may have a harder time than others, but they’re like ‘No, everything is great.’

You’ve asked one of your patients if we could come in today to meet her and take a few photos. Can you give us a little background on her situation?

Georgia had her first knee done in June 2023, and then her second knee replacement in March 2024. She’s only 42, but she’s had terrible arthritis. We were pleased to see her go through the system and have both her surgeries within a nine-month period and I’m so pleased to see how well she is doing.

Dr. James Vavougios and Georgia

Dr. James Vavougios and Georgia. Photos: Kevin Van Paassen/Sunnybrook

What do you think would be helpful information to share with other primary care practitioners in the community, and their patients?

We still hear in the news of some long waits for hip or knee arthroplasty surgeries. I would encourage other primary care practitioners to look into the Toronto Region Rapid Access Clinic as their model has always been efficient and leading in the industry.

And now, with the addition of the “weekend surgery” dates over the past year, I understand they have been able to process through more than 1,000 additional surgeries that wouldn’t have been able to be completed on weekdays alone, which is part of the reason why my patients, like Georgia, have received their specialist appointments and surgery dates much sooner than we anticipated.

 To learn more or to get a referral for your patients, please visit ReduceMyHipandKneeWait.ca.

About the author

Nadia Radovini

Nadia Norcia Radovini is a communications advisor at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

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