Patients of primary care physicians who participated in video consultations with liver disease specialists had a 54 percent higher survival rate than patients whose PCPs didn’t leverage the technology, according to a new study by Michigan Medicine.

The technology was used by the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System to link primary care physicians and specialists to discuss patient cases, treatment and recommendations in real time under the Specialty Care Access Network-Extension of Community Healthcare Outcome (SCAN-ECHO) program for chronic liver disease.

“Improved survival in patients seen via SCAN‐ECHO suggests that this novel approach may be an effective method to improve access for selected patients with liver disease, particularly in rural and underserved populations where access to specialty care is limited,” conclude the authors of the study published in the journal Hepatology.

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The clinical effect of this technology on outcomes is as if patients saw a liver disease specialist face to face, according to lead author Grace Su, MD, chief of gastroenterology at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and a University of Michigan gastroenterologist.

“Primary care providers really want to do the right thing, but they may not have all the necessary tools,” says Su, who directs the SCAN-ECHO clinics at the Ann Arbor VA. “This research shows an excellent way to impart specialty knowledge to them. The learning is mutual. They are not just learning; they are teaching us.”

Going forward, researchers want to determine if the primary care physicians are applying the knowledge learned from SCAN-ECHO to other patients who were not enrolled in the program.

“It is one thing to for a primary care provider to read or learn about a disease, but another when they have a specific patient in mind. This case-based teaching magnifies the potential for learning. Creating many mini-specialists from primary care providers is the most powerful aspect of the SCAN-ECHO program," Su contends. “It's a medical force multiplier.”