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Eric Wicklund

 

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care is financing expansion of the eConsult telemedicine platform to two new Connecticut health systems, improving access to specialist services for patients and their doctors.

 

One of New England’s largest health plans is investing in a telemedicine platform that enables patients and their primary care providers to access specialty consults.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has awarded $32,000 in grants to two Connecticut health systems to expand the eConsult program, an innovative telemedicine program launched in 2015 by Middletown, Conn.-based Community Health Center (CHC) and now being used in about a dozen states across the country, including New York, Delaware and California.

Harvard Pilgrim has awarded $20,000 to Community eConsult Network to launch a year-long pilot through the Value Care Alliance (VCA). The pilot began last month at Middlesex Hospital Primary Care in Middletown nad is expected to expand soon to other VCA member organizations.

“The goal of this pilot program is to make it easier for patients to get the care they need by helping their primary care physicians obtain timely specialty consultations,” Russell Munson, MD, Harvard Pilgrim’s Connecticut Medical Director, said in a press release issued last November, when the grant was made. “In many cases, it will eliminate the need for additional appointments as well as time and travel by using technology to access prompt, high quality specialty care for patients. eConsults will help with access to specialist medical opinions, prescribing, ordering tests and the maintenance of patient medical records, bringing ease and efficiency to patients.”

In addition, the health plan has issued a $12,000 grant to help CeCN launch the telemedicine platform for the new Haven-based Community Medical Group. CMG’s Independent Practice Association serves New Haven, Shoreline and Fairfield counties with a network of some 900 primary care practitioners.

Working with the Weitzman Institute – CHC’s research and innovation arm - and Safety Net Connect, a California-based developer of online care coordination services, CHC launched its eConnect pilot in 2015. Working at first with cardiac care patients, the program routed all specialist referrals from CHC providers through an online system that allows the specialist to review the case online. This includes access to the patient’s medical record and any questions the primary care doctor may have about his/her diagnosis and treatment so far.

The model was originally developed to help federally-qualified health centers coordinate and improve care for the hard-to-reach Medicaid population.

CeCN officials say between 60 percent and 90 percent of the specialty consults have been resolved by the eConsult service since its launch, eliminating costly and unnecessary specialist appointments. More than 14 specialties are now available through the telemedicine platform, including cardiology, dermatology, gastroenterology, pediatric cardiology, orthopedics and pain management.

“Our work has clearly shown what a significant difference eConsults can make for primary care providers and their patients,” says Daren Anderson, MD, CHC’s vice president and chief quality officer and director of the Weitzman Institute. “They help to ensure that patients get access to the best care quickly and efficiently. Harvard Pilgrim is helping us to spread this work across Connecticut, helping build a stronger and more effective primary care system.”

Based on the 2015 pilot’s success, CHC and the Weitzman Institute created CeCN, a non-profit to manage and run the program. Shortly thereafter, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the program for Medicaid reimbursement.

“With limited specialty providers available to treat Medicaid patients, appointment wait times can be as long as a year, leading to healthcare disparities, higher rates of disability and complications in chronic diseases,” CMS officials said in a 2016 press release. “SNC’s eConsult system has been proven to increase access to timely, cost-effective specialty services for underinsured and underserved patients, many of whom live in rural areas with limited access to specialty care.”