Investigating the relationship between consultation length and quality of tele-dermatology E-consults in China: a cross-sectional standardized patient study

BMC Health Serv Res. 2022 Sep 22;22(1):1187. doi: 10.1186/s12913-022-08566-2.


Background: Consultation length, the time a health provider spend with the patient during a consultation, is a crucial aspect of patient-physician interaction. Prior studies that assessed the relationship between consultation length and quality of care were mainly based on offline visits. Research was lacking in E-consults settings, an emerging modality for primary health care. This study aims to examine the association between consultation length and the quality of E-consults services.

Methods: We defined as standardized patient script to present classic urticaria symptoms in asynchronous E-consults at tertiary public hospitals in Beijing and Hangzhou, China. We appraised consultation length using six indicators, time waiting for first response, time waiting for each response, time for consultation, total times of provider's responses, total words of provider's all responses, and average words of provider's each response. We appraised E-consults services quality using five indicators building on China's clinical guidelines (adherence to checklist; accurate diagnosis; appropriate prescription; providing lifestyle modification advice; and patient satisfaction). We performed ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions and logistic regressions to investigate the association between each indictor of consultation length and E-consults services quality.

Results: Providers who responded more quickly were more likely to provide lifestyle modification advice and achieve better patient satisfaction, without compromising process, diagnosis, and prescribing quality; Providers who spent more time with patients were likely to adhere to clinical checklists; Providers with more times and words of responses were significantly more likely to adhere to the clinical checklist, provide an accurate diagnosis, appropriate prescription, and lifestyle modification advice, which achieved better satisfaction rate from the patient as well.

Conclusions: The times and words that health providers provide in E-consult can serve as a proxy measure for quality of care. It is essential and urgent to establish rules to regulate the consultation length for Direct-to-consumer telemedicine to ensure adequate patient-provider interaction and improve service quality to promote digital health better.

Keywords: China; Consultation length; Quality of E-consults; Standardized patients; Tele-dermatology.

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dermatology*
  • Humans
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Telemedicine*