There are many avenues a primary care provider (PCP) can take when a patient needs a specialist’s expertise. Provider-to-provider eConsults between PCPs and specialists have emerged from the need for clear and concise specialist advice while keeping the patient in primary care. As discussed in a previous blog post, eConsults effectively address SDoH barriers that often prevent patients from receiving the specialty care they need. But eConsults have a ton of benefits for providers, too.
Here, eConsults refer to asynchronous conversations between two providers (generally a PCP and a specialist but sometimes two specialists) that do not involve the patient directly and take place on a secure, HIPAA-compliant platform.
While eConsults offer a tremendous opportunity for specialists to inform primary care, too often eConsults give doctors on both sides of the discussion an inferior experience and quality of care suffers as a result. With a few key updates to the eConsult process, it is possible to create an environment where providers share thoughtful advice, highly personalized to the patient’s needs, and even include clinical documentation and educational resources.
How do Old School eConsults Work?
The sharing of knowledge between providers is not new and was more common when local doctors would establish relationships with specialists while rounding at hospitals. As providers began to work in more complex health systems and lost these relationships, they started to rely on a quick phone call to get advice from specialists they used to see in person. In many cases, telephone consultations have continued to be the standard, but they have many limitations on the quality of advice shared:
- Rushed conversations that take place over the phone mean neither the PCP nor the specialist can give their full attention
- It usually takes multiple call attempts and voicemails before the two providers connect — a frustrating, time-consuming experience
- The advice is based only on what the specialist hears; the specialist has no visibility into lab or diagnostic results
- No formal documentation of the advice or conversation is available for the patient’s record
- The PCP may not know what questions to ask, resulting in the specialist offering surface level advice for the patient’s care
In short, telephone consults are a subpar experience for the PCP, specialist and patient.
How Can Healthcare Improve eConsult Quality?
By replacing telephone consultations and taking conversations online into secure messaging software, eConsult solutions overcome the quality issues of traditional eConsults. These user-friendly, HIPAA-compliant, systems are designed to coordinate care between PCPs and specialists.
EConsult solutions improve the quality of provider advice through:
- Dedicated online platforms where providers can communicate thoughtfully and at their convenience
Providers can submit a question when they have time and specialists can answer when they are ready to provide a thorough, well-considered answer. Note: most ReferWell customers have service level agreements in place that require a response in two business days, but specialists generally respond to eConsults much sooner.
- Bidirectional sharing of clinical information for the specialist to review, such as lab results, progress notes and diagnostic reports
- A documented, legal record of the conversation to connect to the patient’s record and refer to in the future
- Live training (virtual or in-person) on how to ask better questions and give better answers
That last point is a real differentiator for a solutions provider such as ReferWell, which has a service team that trains and provides multi-channel support that goes beyond just software troubleshooting. ReferWell’s client operations team advises providers requesting eConsults on how to ask better questions and share the right clinical information to give specialists the full picture of the patient’s concern. ReferWell’s team also works with consulting specialists on how to give detailed responses that improve care quality and coordination.
Health centers and PCPs requesting eConsults on ReferWell consistently say that specialists customize their responses to the specific patient and clinical information provided. These specialists not only provide the best answers, but they are also committed to helping providers learn, and will often provide educational links and videos for both the PCP and the patient. Not only does the system support greater knowledge sharing but it improves the patient experience and leads to better patient outcomes.
With today’s modern technology and a variety of eConsult solutions on the market, there is no reason that provider-to-provider consultations should be anything less than optimal conversations that share specialist-informed care guidance.
Look for a company that can provide both the software and service resources to allow for thoughtful, well-informed, patient-specific consultations. I guarantee that you will see that translate into better quality, more coordinated care and happier, more compliant patients.
This article is part two of a four-part series on reducing barriers and improving access to care with eConsults. Part three discusses how to address healthcare staff shortages with eConsults.
Written by Meg Wright
Meg specializes in the implementation of eConsult programs, teaching platform users and executing the programs flawlessly. As a client operations manager at ReferWell, Meg brings a decade of experience to ReferWell’s Care Navigation team that is diligently working on assisting in care gap closure programs. On top of her vast eConsult knowledge, Meg is known for the optimism she contributes to her clients and her team.