We undertook a scoping review of the published literature to identify and summarise key findings on the telehealth interventions that influence waiting times or waiting lists for specialist outpatient services. Searches were conducted to identify relevant articles. Articles were included if the telehealth intervention restructured or made the referral process more efficient. We excluded studies that simply increased capacity. Two categories of interventions were identified - electronic consultations and image-based triage. Electronic consultations are asynchronous, text-based provider-to-provider consultations. Electronic consultations have been reported to obviate the need for face-to-face appointments between the patient and the specialist in between 34-92% of cases. However, it is often reported that electronic consultations are appropriate in less than 10% of referrals for outpatient care. Image-based triage has been used successfully to reduce unnecessary or inappropriate referrals and was used most often in dermatology, ophthalmology and otolaryngology (ENT). Reported reduction rates for face-to-face appointments by specialty were: dermatology 38-88%, ophthalmology 16-48% and ENT 89%. Image-based triage can be twice as effective as non-image based triage in reducing unnecessary appointments. Telehealth interventions can effectively be used to reduce waiting lists and improve the coordination of specialist services, and should be considered in conjunction with clinical requirements.
Keywords: Telemedicine; electronic consultations; outpatient clinics; triage.
© The Author(s) 2016.