E-consults can help reduce wait times

A basic technology akin to email — electronic consultations or e-consults — can reduce patient wait times for specialist physicians, according to The New York Times columnist Austin Frakt, PhD, director of the VA Boston Healthcare System's Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center.

In a recent column, Dr. Frakt details the benefits of secure communication between primary care physicians and specialists during the primary care visit. These e-consults can help patients avoid separate visits to specialists, saving time for patients who may not have easy access to the providers, and freeing up capacity for patients with more complex needs. E-consults are particularly beneficial for Medicaid patients, uninsured patients or patients who live in rural areas where specialists may be far away.

E-consults were first adopted in the U.S. in 2005 by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and data indicates this initial project reduced wait times and improved care, according to physicians. The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, which began using e-consults in 2012, tracked wait times for 12 different specialties and found e-consults reduced specialist wait times by an average of 17 percent in just three years.

E-consults are a lower cost alternative to an in-person visit, but do increase patient volume, and therefore, overall healthcare costs, Dr. Frakt notes. More research is needed to see if e-consults contribute to better health outcomes, potentially offsetting this cost.

Read the full column here.

 

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