click at right for more telehealth news ->
Online consult program cuts wait times for specialists
A pilot program that helps primary care physicians refer patients to specialists has made a significant impact on referral times in Los Angeles County, according to a study in Health Affairs. The eConsult program allows primary care physicians to consult with medical specialists online before making a patient referral, which helps them determine whether a referral is necessary. According to the study, 25 percent of patients whose cases went through the eConsult network had their health issues resolved without having to see a specialist. In addition, the average wait time to see a specialist fell 17.4 percent in its first three years of operation. "It's a simple program that's had a huge impact on primary care and referral times in Los Angeles County," said Mario Gutierrez, executive director for the Center for Connected Health Policy, a Sacramento-based organization that promotes telemedicine. "We think it can be a model for other states to use." The study found that the number of consults performed under the program grew from 86 per month during the third quarter of 2012 to 12,082 per month during the third quarter of 2015. In addition to reducing the average wait time to see a specialist from 63 days to 52 days, the program increased the percentage of appointments scheduled within 30 days from 24 percent to 30.2 percent. Before the program launched, some patients had to wait up to nine months for an appointment with a specialist, the study noted.