Objectives: Access to specialty care among safety net patients in the United States is inadequate. Discharging appropriate patients to routine primary care follow-up may improve specialty care access. We sought to identify, by consensus, patients who could safely be discharged from a gastroenterology (GI) clinic, and to evaluate the impact of the discharges on GI clinic work flow.
Study design: Pre- and post intervention.
Methods: We developed and implemented a modified Delphi process. Gastroenterologists and primary care providers (PCPs) rated their comfort (using 5-point Likert scales) with discharging patients immediately post endoscopy for 24 clinical scenarios, assuming formal recommendations were communicated to the PCP. We examined the impact of implementing these criteria on clinic wait times and on the ratio of new to follow-up visits.
Results: All gastroenterologists (100%; 7 of 7) and 71.0% of PCPs (130 of 183) participated. Consensus was achieved for 13 of the 24 clinical scenarios for which discharge criteria were developed. Post intervention, 403 patients were discharged from the GI clinic, compared with 0 patients in the same 4 calendar months pre-intervention. The ratio of new to follow-up appointments increased from 0.9:1 to 1:1 (P = .05). Median wait time for the third next available appointment at GI clinics decreased from 158 days to 74 days (P = .0001).
Conclusions: Discharging patients from specialty care back to primary care with consensus standards is one method to improve access to specialty care. Understanding the concerns of all stakeholders is necessary to refine and disseminate this process to other specialties and healthcare systems to ensure timely access to specialty services for all patients.