More than half of new patients who require specialty care at UVM Medical Center requiring specialty care wait 30 days or more to get a referral, and hospital officials say they are seeing a higher than usual number of patients this year.

To reduce the wait, which is the result of staffing shortages, the hospital is relying on a telehealth program called eConsults, which allows primary care physicians to go directly to specialists with clinical questions on their patient’s behalf.

Alicia Jacobs, vice chair of Family Medicine at UVM Medical Center, says eConsults will significantly cut waiting times for new patients needing specialty visits.

“It’s better for patients. It’s better for primary care providers and it’s better for specialists and it helps us collaborate in a new and innovative way,” she said. “It’s really exciting.” 

eConsults was originally piloted by the American Association of Medical Colleges in 2014. The AAMC says the first three years of the pilot, hospitals saw an 84 percent increase in timely access to specialty care and opened up thousands of in-person specialty appointments.