, Volume 24, Issue 6, pp 710-715

A Web-based Generalist–Specialist System to Improve Scheduling of Outpatient Specialty Consultations in an Academic Center

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Failed referrals for specialty care are common and often represent medical errors. Technological structures and processes account for many failures. Scheduling appointments for subspecialty evaluation is a first step in outpatient referral and consultation.

OBJECTIVE

We determined whether moving from paper-based referrals to a Web-based system with automated tracking features was associated with greater scheduling of appointments among referred patients.

DESIGN

Staggered implementation of a quality-improvement project, with comparison of intervention and control groups.

PARTICIPANTS

Patients 21 or more years of age referred from any of 11 primary-care clinics to any of 25 specialty clinics.

INTERVENTIONS

Faxed referrals were replaced by a Web-based application shared by generalists and specialists, with enhanced communications and automated notification to the specialty office.

MEASUREMENTS

We compared scheduling before and after implementation and time from referral to appointment. A logistic regression analysis adjusted for demographics.

MAIN RESULTS

Among 40,487 referrals, 54% led to scheduled specialty visits before intervention, compared to 83% with intervention. The median time to appointment was 168 days without intervention and 78 days with intervention. Scheduling increased more when duplicate referrals were not generated (54% for single orders, 24% for multiple orders). After adjustment, referrals with the intervention were more than twice as likely to have scheduled visits.

CONCLUSIONS

With a new Web-based referrals system, referrals were more than twice as likely to lead to a scheduled visit. This system improves access to specialty medical services.

SUPPORT:

Dr. Weiner was supported by grant number 5K23AG020088 from the National Institute on Aging. This study was supported by Wishard Health Services, Indianapolis, Indiana.