Background: Electronic referrals can improve access to subspecialty care in safety net settings. In January 2007, San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) launched an electronic referral portal that incorporated subspecialist triage, iterative communication with referring providers, and existing electronic health record data to improve access to subspecialty care.
Objective: We surveyed primary care providers (PCPs) to assess the impact of electronic referrals on workflow and clinical care.
Design: We administered an 18-item, web-based questionnaire to all 368 PCPs who had the option of referring to SFGH.
Measurements: We asked participants to rate time spent submitting a referral, guidance of workup, wait times, and change in overall clinical care compared to prior referral methods using 5-point Likert scales. We used multivariate logistic regression to identify variables associated with perceived improvement in overall clinical care.
Results: Two hundred ninety-eight PCPs (81.0%) from 24 clinics participated. Over half (55.4%) worked at hospital-based clinics, 27.9% at county-funded community clinics, and 17.1% at non-county-funded community clinics. Most (71.9%) reported that electronic referrals had improved overall clinical care. Providers from non-county-funded clinics (AOR 0.40, 95% CI 0.14-0.79) and those who spent > or =6 min submitting an electronic referral (AOR 0.33, 95%CI 0.18-0.61) were significantly less likely than other participants to report that electronic referrals had improved clinical care.
Conclusions: PCPs felt electronic referrals improved health-care access and quality; those who reported a negative impact on workflow were less likely to agree. While electronic referrals hold promise as a tool to improve clinical care, their impact on workflow should be considered.