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      Not Perfect, but Better: Primary Care Providers’ Experiences with Electronic Referrals in a Safety Net Health System


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          Electronic referrals can improve access to subspecialty care in safety net settings. In January 2007, San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) launched an electronic referral portal that incorporated subspecialist triage, iterative communication with referring providers, and existing electronic health record data to improve access to subspecialty care.


          We surveyed primary care providers (PCPs) to assess the impact of electronic referrals on workflow and clinical care.


          We administered an 18-item, web-based questionnaire to all 368 PCPs who had the option of referring to SFGH.


          We asked participants to rate time spent submitting a referral, guidance of workup, wait times, and change in overall clinical care compared to prior referral methods using 5-point Likert scales. We used multivariate logistic regression to identify variables associated with perceived improvement in overall clinical care.


          Two hundred ninety-eight PCPs (81.0%) from 24 clinics participated. Over half (55.4%) worked at hospital-based clinics, 27.9% at county-funded community clinics, and 17.1% at non-county-funded community clinics. Most (71.9%) reported that electronic referrals had improved overall clinical care. Providers from non-county-funded clinics (AOR 0.40, 95% CI 0.14-0.79) and those who spent ≥6 min submitting an electronic referral (AOR 0.33, 95%CI 0.18-0.61) were significantly less likely than other participants to report that electronic referrals had improved clinical care.


          PCPs felt electronic referrals improved health-care access and quality; those who reported a negative impact on workflow were less likely to agree. While electronic referrals hold promise as a tool to improve clinical care, their impact on workflow should be considered.

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          Most cited references24

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          A Conceptual and Operational Definition of Personal Innovativeness in the Domain of Information Technology

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            Effects of computer-based clinical decision support systems on physician performance and patient outcomes: a systematic review.

            Many computer software developers and vendors claim that their systems can directly improve clinical decisions. As for other health care interventions, such claims should be based on careful trials that assess their effects on clinical performance and, preferably, patient outcomes. To systematically review controlled clinical trials assessing the effects of computer-based clinical decision support systems (CDSSs) on physician performance and patient outcomes. We updated earlier reviews covering 1974 to 1992 by searching the MEDLINE, EMBASE, INSPEC, SCISEARCH, and the Cochrane Library bibliographic databases from 1992 to March 1998. Reference lists and conference proceedings were reviewed and evaluators of CDSSs were contacted. Studies were included if they involved the use of a CDSS in a clinical setting by a health care practitioner and assessed the effects of the system prospectively with a concurrent control. The validity of each relevant study (scored from 0-10) was evaluated in duplicate. Data on setting, subjects, computer systems, and outcomes were abstracted and a power analysis was done on studies with negative findings. A total of 68 controlled trials met our criteria, 40 of which were published since 1992. Quality scores ranged from 2 to 10, with more recent trials rating higher (mean, 7.7) than earlier studies (mean, 6.4) (P<.001). Effects on physician performance were assessed in 65 studies and 43 found a benefit (66%). These included 9 of 15 studies on drug dosing systems, 1 of 5 studies on diagnostic aids, 14 of 19 preventive care systems, and 19 of 26 studies evaluating CDSSs for other medical care. Six of 14 studies assessing patient outcomes found a benefit. Of the remaining 8 studies, only 3 had a power of greater than 80% to detect a clinically important effect. Published studies of CDSSs are increasing rapidly, and their quality is improving. The CDSSs can enhance clinical performance for drug dosing, preventive care, and other aspects of medical care, but not convincingly for diagnosis. The effects of CDSSs on patient outcomes have been insufficiently studied.
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              Effect of audit and feedback, and reminder messages on primary-care radiology referrals: a randomised trial.

              Radiological tests are often used by general practitioners (GPs). These tests can be overused and contribute little to clinical management. We aimed to assess two methods of reducing GP requests for radiological tests in accordance with the UK Royal College of Radiologists' guidelines on lumbar spine and knee radiographs. We assessed audit and feedback, and educational reminder messages in six radiology departments and 244 general practices that they served. The study was a before-and-after, pragmatic, cluster randomised controlled trial with a 232 factorial design. A random subset of GP patients' records were examined for concordance with the guidelines. The main outcome measure was number of radiograph requests per 1000 patients per year. Analysis was by intention to treat. The effect of educational reminder messages (ie, the change in request rate after intervention) was an absolute change of -1.53 (95% CI -2.5 to -0.57) for lumbar spine and of -1.61 (-2.6 to -0.62) for knee radiographs, both relative reductions of about 20%. The effect of audit and feedback was an absolute change of -0.07 (-1.3 to 0.9) for lumbar spine of 0.04 (-0.95 to 1.03) for knee radiograph requests, both relative reductions of about 1%. Concordance between groups did not differ significantly. 6-monthly feedback of audit data is ineffective but the routine attachment of educational reminder messages to radiographs is effective and does not affect quality of referrals. Any department of radiology that handles referrals from primary care could deliver this intervention to good effect.

                Author and article information

                +1-415-206 , +1-415-206 , mkushel@medsfgh.ucsf.edu
                J Gen Intern Med
                Journal of General Internal Medicine
                Springer-Verlag (New York )
                24 March 2009
                May 2009
                : 24
                : 5
                : 614-619
                [1 ]Division of Primary Care, Department of Medicine, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, 751 South Bascom Ave., Box 1364, San Jose, CA 95128 USA
                [2 ]Division of General Internal Medicine, University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital, Box 1364, San Francisco, CA 94143 USA
                [3 ]Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University of California, San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital, San Francisco, CA USA
                © The Author(s) 2009
                : 1 August 2008
                : 28 December 2008
                : 2 March 2009
                Original Article
                Custom metadata
                © Society of General Internal Medicine 2009

                Internal medicine
                safety net health system,subspecialty care,information technology,electronic referral


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