Online Consult Program Cuts Wait Times for Specialists

Doug Desjardins, March 20, 2017

Los Angeles County primary care physicians use the pilot program to consult with medical specialists online before making a patient referral.

This story originally appeared in California Healthfax.

A pilot program that helps primary care physicians in Los Angeles County refer patients to specialists has reduced wait times by more than 17% in its first three years of operation.

The eConsult program allows primary care physicians to consult with medical specialists online before making a patient referral, a consult that helps physicians determine whether a referral is necessary.

A Health Affairs study of the program that appeared in the March issue of found that 25% of patients whose cases went through the eConsult network had their health issues resolved without having to see a specialist and that the average wait time to see a specialist declined 17.4% from 2012 to 2015.

"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.

By the end of 2015, 3,060 primary care providers and 479 medical specialists in Los Angeles County were using the program in 86 specialty services.

Lower Average Wait Times
In addition to reducing the average wait time to see a specialist by 17.4%—from 63 days to 52 days—the program increased the percentage of appointments scheduled within 30 days from 24% to 30.2%.

The decrease in the average wait time varied by specialty, ranging from a 15% decrease for podiatrists to a 39% decrease for ear, nose, and throat specialists.

The study noted that before the program launched, some patients had to wait up to nine months for an appointment with a specialist.

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