Journal of Medical Internet Research (Sep 2020)

Teleconsultation Between Patients and Health Care Professionals in the Catalan Primary Care Service: Message Annotation Analysis in a Retrospective Cross-Sectional Study

  • López Seguí, Francesc,
  • Walsh, Sandra,
  • Solans, Oscar,
  • Adroher Mas, Cristina,
  • Ferraro, Gabriela,
  • García-Altés, Anna,
  • García Cuyàs, Francesc,
  • Salvador Carulla, Luis,
  • Sagarra Castro, Marta,
  • Vidal-Alaball, Josep

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 22, no. 9
p. e19149


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BackgroundOver the last decade, telemedicine services have been introduced in the public health care systems of several industrialized countries. In Catalonia, the use of eConsulta, an asynchronous teleconsultation service between primary care professionals and citizens in the public health care system, has already reached 1 million cases. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of eConsulta was growing at a monthly rate of 7%, and the growth has been exponential from March 15, 2020 to the present day. Despite its widespread usage, there is little qualitative evidence describing how this tool is used. ObjectiveThe aim of this study was to annotate a random sample of teleconsultations from eConsulta, and to evaluate the level of agreement between health care professionals with respect to the annotation. MethodsTwenty general practitioners retrospectively annotated a random sample of 5382 cases managed by eConsulta according to three aspects: the type of interaction according to 6 author-proposed categories, whether the practitioners believed a face-to-face visit was avoided, and whether they believed the patient would have requested a face-to-face visit had eConsulta not been available. A total of 1217 cases were classified three times by three different professionals to assess the degree of consensus among them. ResultsThe general practitioners considered that 79.60% (4284/5382) of the teleconsultations resulted in avoiding a face-to-face visit, and considered that 64.96% (3496/5382) of the time, the patient would have made a face-to-face visit in the absence of a service like eConsulta. The most frequent uses were for management of test results (26.77%, 1433/5354), management of repeat prescriptions (24.30%, 1301/5354), and medical enquiries (14.23%, 762/5354). The degree of agreement among professionals as to the annotations was mixed, with the highest consensus demonstrated for the question “Has the online consultation avoided a face-to-face visit?” (3/3 professionals agreed 67.95% of the time, 827/1217), and the lowest consensus for the type of use of the teleconsultation (3/3 professionals agreed 57.60% of the time, 701/1217). ConclusionsThis study shows the ability of eConsulta to reduce the number of face-to-face visits for 55% (79% × 65%) to 79% of cases. In comparison to previous research, these results are slightly more pessimistic, although the rates are still high and in line with administrative data proxies, showing that 84% of patients using teleconsultations do not make an in-person appointment in the following 3 months. With respect to the type of consultation performed, our results are similar to the existing literature, thus providing robust support for eConsulta’s usage. The mixed degree of consensus among professionals implies that results derived from artificial intelligence tools such as message classification algorithms should be interpreted in light of these shortcomings.