Safety-net health systems across the country are implementing electronic consult (eConsult) systems in which primary carepractitioners (PCPs) submit all requests for specialty assistance electronically to be reviewed and discussed with specialists. Evidence suggests that eConsult systems can make significant improvements in specialty access, but the outcomes of these systems for frontline PCPs is poorly understood.
To understand PCP perceptions of the results of eConsult initiation on PCP workflow, specialist access, and patient care.
DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS:
Qualitative interviews were conducted from December 1, 2016, to April 15, 2017, with 40 safety-net PCPs in Los Angeles County who use the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) eConsult system. Interviewees were recruited to include diversity in PCP type, practice setting, and employer (DHS employed vs DHS affiliated). Participants were interviewed about their perceptions of clinical workflow, access to specialists, relationships with specialists, and referral decision making.
MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES:
Perceptions of the results of eConsult, including positive and negative themes and remaining perceived gaps in specialty care.
Of the 40 participants, 27 (68%) were women; 24 (60%) PCPs performed 5 or more eConsults per week. Primary carepractitioners' perceptions of eConsult clustered around 4 main themes: access and timeliness of specialty care, shift of work to PCPs, relationships with specialists, and eConsult interface issues. Many PCPs praised the improved timeliness of specialist input with eConsult, as well as the added clinical and educational value of dialogue with specialists, particularly compared with the limitations of the prior referral process. However, PCPs also consistently perceived that eConsult shifted some of the work of specialty care to them. Many PCPs believed that this extra burden was worth the effort given the benefits of eConsult, such as improved timeliness of care and ability to manage specialty conditions. In contrast, others were frustrated by the increased administrative burden, broadened clinical responsibility, and restructuring of specialty care delivery.
CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE:
While associated with improved specialty care access, eConsult systems simultaneously created new challenges for PCPs, such as an increased burden of work in providing specialty care. Primary care practitioners varied in their enthusiasm for these workflow changes with diverging perceptions of the same processes. Our findings provide insights on challenges future primarycare transformation efforts may face.