Background: Little is known about electronic consultation (e-consult) utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic when health systems rapidly implemented and scaled telehealth alternatives to in-person care. It is also unknown if e-consult utilization during the pandemic replaced or merely deferred the need for a specialty appointment. We evaluated if primary care providers' (PCPs) e-consult utilization and specialists' recommendations for specialty appointments changed after the transition to telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: This cohort study used an interrupted time series analysis of e-consult utilization in a large, urban academic health care system between December 1, 2019, and June 27, 2020; the post-telemedicine time period began March 15, 2020. The primary outcome measure was the odds of an e-consult ordered during a PCP appointment; the secondary outcome measure was the odds of a specialist recommending a specialty appointment in an e-consult. Results: During 193,263 PCP appointments, 1,318 e-consults were placed to internal medicine subspecialties. Compared to the pre-telemedicine time period, the odds of a PCP ordering an e-consult increased (OR 1.04, 95% CI [1.02-1.07]) and the odds of specialists recommending specialty appointments increased (OR 1.11, 95% CI [1.06-1.15]). Conclusions: E-consult use increased following the transition to telemedicine in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting that PCPs consider the e-consult a valuable tool for patient care when there is limited availability of specialty appointments. However, recommendations for specialty appointments following an e-consult also increased, suggesting that the e-consult may not replace the need for a specialty appointment.
- health service research
- primary care
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health Informatics
- Health Information Management