MCEI is a partnership between Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP), Arrowhead Regional Medical Center (ARMC) and Riverside University Health System (RUHS) to improve access to care for the Safety-Net population in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. IEHP is sponsoring the initiative to design, implement and evaluate eConsult at more than 150 clinic sites with the ultimate goal of 100% participation from providers throughout both counties.
Short for “electronic consultation,” eConsult is a virtual care coordination process that enables Primary Care Providers (PCPs) to message Specialists regarding patient care and the need for specialty referral. PCPs may pose a simple question (e.g., about a drug dosage) or a more complex question following an initial assessment (e.g. asking for a virtual dermatology assessment and providing images of the patient). A secure web-based application facilitates this message exchange, allowing specialists to respond, usually within a day, to PCPs’ questions.
Through this PCP-Specialist dialog, all patients gain virtual access to specialty care and can obtain referrals in a quicker, more efficient manner. These virtual interactions are crucial to the success of reducing patient visit wait times, unnecessary appointments, and appointment no-shows.
Forty percent (40%) of referrals lack one or more of the three key elements for a successful referral: medical necessity, correct specialty, and complete workup (Chen et al.). In the traditional referral process, relevant information and background is often lost, thus delaying care plans and creating duplicate tests and procedures. Such motions are costly and time consuming for all parties involved, and creates potentially harmful delays for patients in particular. There is ample evidence to suggest that failures in care coordination via the referral process negatively impact patient care (Horner et al., OMalley et al.)
Analysis revealed a 20-step referral process, with 8 different people and record systems involved; more steps means more potential “break points,” where one error can “dramatically decrease the chance that the patient would ever see the specialist” and get the care they need. An average of 2 of every 5 referrals get scheduled, and of those patient who do get an appointment, 40% do not show up. The issues of inefficient referrals, scheduling failures, and the no-show rates combined impact Medicaid patients in a particular way, since they are usually in poor health with higher rates of disability, fewer economic resources, limited mobility, and more to lose when missing work for care.