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LA clinics to begin use of online peer consulting system

L.A. County health clinics serving the poor and uninsured will start using a new online system called eConsult to cut costs and streamline care.

Elaine Batchlor, chief medical officer for L.A. Care, the public health insurer funding the project, describes the system as a web version of what doctors used to call a "curb-side consultation."

"What that meant was that if you were a primary care physician and you had a colleague who was a specialist, you’d pull your colleague aside and say, 'Hey, I have a patient who has this problem what should I do?'," says Batchlor, "And the specialist would give you advice on what to do and you would solve that problem, on your own without having to send that patient for a specialty visit."

Batchlor says the "curbside" consulting between doctors will now take place online instead. The hope is that that will reduce specialist referrals to overburdened L.A. County hospitals, and spare patients months of waiting for future appointments.

L.A. Care launched an eConsult test project in 2009 with PRIVATE physicians and specialists. And Batchlor says it worked.

"What we saw in the pilot program is a significant decrease in the need for specialty appointments. So, we saw a 25 percent decrease and higher in specialty visits and that does translates to saving," she said.

The program will be used in 47 safety net clinics in L.A. County by next year.