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Electronic consultations and economies of scale: a qualitative study of clinician perspectives on scaling up e-consult delivery.

Anderson E, Rinne ST, Orlander JD, Cutrona SL, Strymish JL, Vimalananda VG. Electronic consultations and economies of scale: a qualitative study of clinician perspectives on scaling up e-consult delivery. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association : JAMIA. 2021 Sep 18; 28(10):2165-2175.

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OBJECTIVE: To explore Veterans Health Administration clinicians'' perspectives on the idea of redesigning electronic consultation (e-consult) delivery in line with a hub-and-spoke (centralized) model. MATERIALS AND METHODS: We conducted a qualitative study in VA New England Healthcare System (VISN 1). Semi-structured phone interviews were conducted with 35 primary care providers and 38 specialty care providers, including 13 clinical leaders, at 6 VISN 1 sites varying in size, specialist availability, and e-consult volume. Interviews included exploration of the hub-and-spoke (centralized) e-consult model as a system redesign option. Qualitative content analysis procedures were applied to identify and describe salient categories. RESULTS: Participants saw several potential benefits to scaling up e-consult delivery from a decentralized model to a hub-and-spoke model, including expanded access to specialist expertise and increased timeliness of e-consult responses. Concerns included differences in resource availability and management styles between sites, anticipated disruption to working relationships, lack of incentives for central e-consultants, dedicated staff''s burnout and fatigue, technological challenges, and lack of motivation for change. DISCUSSION: Based on a case study from one of the largest integrated healthcare systems in the United States, our work identifies novel concerns and offers insights for healthcare organizations contemplating a scale-up of their e-consult systems. CONCLUSIONS: Scaling up e-consults in line with the hub-and-spoke model may help pave the way for a centralized and efficient approach to care delivery, but the success of this transformation will depend on healthcare systems'' ability to evaluate and address barriers to leveraging economies of scale for e-consults.

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