Electronic consultations (e-consults) may be a valuable tool in the current era of increased demand for hematologists. Despite the increasing use of e-consults in hematology, their optimal utilization and impact on patient outcomes and workload are largely unknown.
In this retrospective cohort study, we studied the hematology consult experience at Veterans Affairs Connecticut from 2006 to 2018. We included 7,664 hematology consults (3,240 e-consults and 4,424 face-to-face [FTF] consults) requested by 1,089 unique clinicians.
We found that e-consults were rapidly adopted and used equally among physicians of different degrees of experience. The number of FTF consults did not decrease after the introduction of e-consult services. E-consults were preferentially used for milder laboratory abnormalities that had been less likely to result in a consult before their availability. Referring clinicians used e-consults preferentially for periprocedural management, anemia, leukopenia, and anticoagulation questions. Eighty-three percent of e-consults were resolved without needing an FTF visit in the year after the consult. Consults for pancytopenia, gammopathy, leukocytosis, and for patients with known malignancy were less likely to be resolved by e-consult. Among patients who were diagnosed with a new hematologic malignancy after their consult, having an e-consult before an FTF visit did not adversely affect survival.
In summary, e-consults safely expanded delivery of hematology services in our health care system but increased total consult volume. We report novel data on what types of consults may be best suited to the electronic modality, the impact of e-consults on workload, and their optimal use and implementation.