New research described on Medscape suggests that an online referral management system might benefit patients.

The reviewers were expected to respond to referral requests promptly. Either they could forward the request to a DHS scheduling service for appointment booking, or they could engage in a dialogue with the referring physician to address the request without a specialist visit. The researchers devised an “engagement index” to measure variations in reviewers’ interactions with primary care providers.

The median time to an electronic response from a specialist was 1 day, and 25% of eConsults were resolved without a specialist visit. Between 2014 and 2015, the median time to an appointment for any eConsult request that resulted in a visit to a specialist decreased 17.4% (from 63 to 52 days; P < .001). The percentage of appointments scheduled within 30 days increased from 24.0% to 30.2% (P < .001).

The researchers found no significant change in the average monthly number of eConsult requests that resulted in a specialist visit. However, there was a significant decrease in the rate of eConsult requests resolved without a visit, from 570 per month (23.1% of all requests) in the first quarter of 2014 to 447 per month (19.3%) in the fourth quarter of 2015.