One of the challenges of being a health care blogger is taking the language of grant proposals and peer reviewed journal articles and translating it into something that the average person can understand. A recent meeting I attended illustrates this fairly well.
Last week, I attended the “eConsults Study Core Team Kick-Off Meeting” where we discussed a new study, “An Evaluation of an Electronic Consultation (‘eConsult’) Platform to Increase Specialist Access for Patients in Underserved Populations: Impact on Wait Times, Cost and Access Disparities”. Or, in other words, how can we make it easier for our doctors to speak with other medical experts to make sure our patients get even better health care?
The meeting was a video conference with over a dozen participants getting into nitty gritty details about how CHC can use our electronic medical record system to send information about a patient from one of our primary care providers to a specialist to get recommendations for the patient’s care. There are plenty of issues that need to be addressed that most people don’t even think of.
One of the top issues is patient privacy. You want to make sure that the right information gets to the right people. First and foremost, CHC needs to make sure that the patient has given permission for any information to be shared with doctors outside of CHC. Systems have to be set up so that the data is protected, so no one else can read it while it is being sent to other doctors and so that it is as easy as possible for doctors to send and receive medical information.
Yet why are e-Consults so important? Often, patients don’t end up seeing a specialist when their doctor recommends it. In one review, nearly two thirds of patients that were told to see a heart specialist didn’t make it to an appointment with the specialist. There are lots of reasons for this. Often, specialists are so busy, that appointments can’t be made for over half a year. Even when an appointment can be made, they aren’t always easy to get to, especially if they are in distant towns without public transportation.
On top of this, the specialist might not really need to see the patient. With the right systems in place, a patient’s regular doctor can gather all the necessary information that the specialist needs and send it off to the specialist for an ‘e-Consult’. The specialist, after reviewing the information can send a message back to the regular doctor, who could then make sure that the patient gets the care they need.
Not only would such a system get the patients the care they need sooner, and avoid requiring them to travel a great distance, but such a system could also save money and make it so that those who normally wouldn’t be able to get help from a specialist would be able to do so.
At least, that’s the idea. Here at CHC, however, we try to approach things scientifically, so we’re looking at ways of measuring what sort of impact rolling out a system to make e-consults easier and more frequent really has. Stay tuned for results.
The current project is looking at improving access to heart specialists, but the idea and practice isn’t new to CHC. We use digital cameras to take pictures of diabetic patients’ eyes which we send off to specialists to see if the patient is at risk of losing eyesight because of their diabetes. Recently, we started another project where our doctors speak with specialists in hepatitis in a weekly video conference so our doctors can find the best way treat the hepatitis.
When you get right down to it, for the average person, telemedicine isn’t really as complicated as it seems. It is just finding easier ways for doctors to share information and find the best ways to treat patients.