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Understanding the Potential for Patient Engagement in Electronic Consultation and Referral Systems: Lessons From One Safety Net System

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Health Services Research

Published online on


Objective To understand patient, primary care clinician (PCC), and subspecialist perspectives on potential, unexplored roles for patients in electronic consultation and referral (eCR) systems. Data Sources Primary focus group and survey data collected April–November 2015. Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG) is part of an integrated public health delivery system. Its mature eCR system was first implemented in 2005. Study Design This mixed‐methods study synthesizes patient, subspecialist, and PCC perspectives through two patient focus groups in English, Spanish, and Cantonese (n = 6); subspecialist focus groups (n = 2); and an electronic survey of all PCCs (n = 222/634, 35 percent response). Data Collection/Extraction Methods Focus groups were audio‐recorded and transcribed. Two researchers coded the transcripts to identify recurrent themes. Survey data were analyzed using summary and bivariate statistics. Principal Findings Patients expressed minimal desire to directly engage in eCR, instead of emphasizing their PCC's role in advocating, informing, and finding health solutions. Subspecialists requested more consistent communication to patients about the electronic consultation process. Most PCCs (52 percent) supported patient engagement in the eCR process, particularly patient ability to track consult status and securely message with subspecialists. Conclusions Results suggest a continuum of opportunities for patients and their caregivers to engage in eCR systems.