Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System
E-Consults: Virtually Enhancing Veteran Care
Electronic consultations (E-Consults) have become part of Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center’s promise to provide quality care for our Veteran patients. The purpose of E-Consults is to give Veterans and their primary care providers increased access to specialty care services such as cardiology, urology, pain management, diabetes and so forth. E-Consults are provider-to-provider consults which can eliminate the need for a face-to-face appointment, with the Veteran patient, to obtain a referral for the needed specialty care.
E-Consults can answer questions about short-term care and healing options, better prepare a Veteran for a face-to-face visit with a specialist, which may include lab-work or x-rays that need to be completed in advance of a scheduled specialty visit, or they can assist the primary care provider and specialist in the management of a chronic disease such as chronic kidney disease or diabetes over time. E-Consults also save our Veterans time and money, because they may not need the appointment to get the necessary referral for specialty care.
Traditionally, if a primary care provider determines a patient needs to be seen by a specialist for further evaluation or care, a consult is placed in the system and the Veteran waits to be scheduled for and notified of an in-person appointment in the specialty clinic. The influx of patients from OEF/OIF, on top of the already large Veteran population, sometimes causes an extended wait time to be seen by a specialist. This is where E-Consults are especially beneficial. In many cases, a specialist may be able to answer a primary care provider question by looking at test results and medical information already in the patient’s record. E-Consults allow Primary care providers to request that a specialist review the record of a Veteran related to a specific problem, get the specialist’s interpretation of the medical record, and their recommendations for a plan of care.
E-Consults will never replace the need for real-time, in-person communications between providers when it comes to urgent or emergent care. Charleston VAMC currently has 17 specialties utilizing this tool and plans to recruit more in an effort to continue providing quality and timely care for Veterans.