Geisinger program improves internal communication between doctors

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Better coordination between primary care physicians and specialists at Geisinger is enabling clinicians to better diagnose and treat patients at reduced costs.

The Danville, Pa.-based integrated delivery system conducted a two-year study of an internal communication program called Ask-A-Doc, which resulted in quicker communication, decreased healthcare costs as well as improved quality of care.

The study of nearly 22,000 physician consultations demonstrated that the Ask-A-Doc program significantly reduced turnaround time between primary and specialty doctors to 6.5 hours vs. traditional referrals, which range from weeks to months.

According to Geisinger, the success of the Ask-A-Doc (AAD) program is based on “reliably getting an answer quickly with documentation in the electronic health record, which helps deliver the right care to the right patients at the right time.”

“The old models of communication between primary and specialty physicians are unreliable and often ineffective, so new electronic methods need to be explored and implemented,” says Eric Newman, MD, Geisinger’s vice chair for clinical innovations in the division of medicine. “The Ask-A-Doc program cuts down response wait times and improves reliability of communication, which allows physicians to better diagnose and treat patients. This ultimately leads to lower costs and better outcomes.”

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In the first month of the Ask-A-Doc program, Geisinger achieved about a 14 percent reduction in total cost of care. And, during the second month of its implementation, the health system contends that it saw a 20 percent cost reduction, compared with a group that had not been exposed to the program.

“The reductions in cost were driven largely by decreased emergency room visits and physician office visits, with a notable 74 percent drop in specialist visits,” according to Geisinger. “The Ask-A-Doc program has been extremely successful, with 99.9 percent of questions answered and more than 84 percent of Geisinger primary care providers using the program on a regular basis.”

Currently, 35 specialties participate in the program, and more than 17,000 Ask-A-Doc consults have been completed to date.

“Ask-a-Doc now accounts for 10 percent of all Geisinger referrals to participating specialties,” reports the healthcare organization. “Also, by providing an alternative method for obtaining specialty help, AAD opened up almost 4,000 additional face-to-face specialty slots in 2018.”

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