Patients satisfied with virtual specialist consults, Kaiser study finds

Virtual consultations might be a more efficient use of specialists' time than face-to-face meetings without a decline in patient satisfaction, according to a study published at BioMed Central.

Researchers from Kaiser Permanente, Colorado, looked at requests for specialist consults from family and internal medicine providers through its EHR system. It matched patients by age, gender, reason for the consult and specialty department, comparing those who had virtual meetings with those who underwent traditional consultations.

The study explains that its EHR system allows primary care docs to request a specialist consultation that the staff then sets up with the patient, whether in-person or virtual.

Interestingly enough, it doesn't explain how the virtual consults took place, whether through videoconferencing such as Skype, merely over the phone or some other online method.

Afterward, the mean patients satisfaction rating was 8.5 on a scale of 1-10, irrespective of the kind of consult.

In the end, referring physicians reported that they received information more quickly after the virtual consultations, but the value and application of information from both types of consultations were similar.

The authors conclude that virtual consultations might decrease the need for face-to-face specialty encounters without a decrease in the patient's perception of care.

Cleveland Clinic's MyConsult service is one example of such programs; it provides virtual consults without in-person visits for people with "high-end" diagnosis such as cancer. Physicians only consult with patients when they have enough data--such as from imaging and pathology reports--to make a diagnosis without seeing the patient in person.

A doctor reviews the information, renders the opinion over the Internet, and then follows up with a phone call. The program helps make sure the patient is educated and prepared for that phone call, making the encounter more productive.

For minor ailments especially, insurers such as United Healthcare, Aetna and Cigna as well as large employers such as General Electric and Delta Air Lines are pushing their members/employees to take advantage of virtual visits.This trend could force traditional practices to up their game in providing better service.

To learn more:
- read the study

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