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© 2019 Journal of Medical Internet Research. All rights reserved. Background: Governments and health care providers are keen to find innovative ways to deliver care more efficiently. Interest in electronic consultation (e-consultation) has grown, but the evidence of benefit is uncertain. Objective: This study aimed to assess the evidence of delivering e-consultation using secure email and messaging or video links in primary care. Methods: A systematic review was conducted on the use and application of e-consultations in primary care. We searched 7 international databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, EconLit, and Web of Science; 1999-2017), identifying 52 relevant studies. Papers were screened against a detailed inclusion and exclusion criteria. Independent dual data extraction was conducted and assessed for quality. The resulting evidence was synthesized using thematic analysis. Results: This review included 57 studies from a range of countries, mainly the United States (n=30) and the United Kingdom (n=13). There were disparities in uptake and utilization toward more use by younger, employed adults. Patient responses to e-consultation were mixed. Patients reported satisfaction with services and improved self-care, communication, and engagement with clinicians. Evidence for the acceptability and ease of use was strong, especially for those with long-term conditions and patients located in remote regions. However, patients were concerned about the privacy and security of their data. For primary health care staff, e-consultation delivers challenges around time management, having the correct technological infrastructure, whether it offers a comparable standard of clinical quality, and whether it improves health outcomes. Conclusions: E-consultations may improve aspects of care delivery, but the small scale of many of the studies and low adoption rates leave unanswered questions about usage, quality, cost, and sustainability. We need to improve e-consultation implementation, demonstrate how e-consultations will not increase disparities in access, provide better reassurance to patients about privacy, and incorporate e-consultation as part of a manageable clinical workflow.

Original publication

DOI

10.2196/13042

Type

Journal article

Journal

Journal of Medical Internet Research

Publication Date

01/12/2019

Volume

21