Study: Physician-to-physician electronic consults improve patients' access to care

A study in Health Affairs investigated whether a physician-to-physician electronic consultation system could help decrease patient wait times for specialty care.

The researchers — led by Michael L. Barnett, MD, a health policy researcher at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston — studied an electronic consultation system implemented at a Los Angeles-based safety-net program in 2012. The system, called the eConsult system, enabled specialists to review all specialty assistance requests from primary care providers.

By 2015, more than 3,000 primary care providers were using the eConsult system to perform 12,082 consultations each month. The median specialist response time was one day, and the researchers found that 25 percent of the eConsult system requests were resolved via electronic dialogue without an in-person specialist visit.

"Three to four years after implementation, the median time to a specialist appointment decreased significantly, while the volume of visits remained stable," according to the study. "eConsult systems are a promising and sustainable intervention that could improve access to specialist care for underserved patients."

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