Electronic transmission of medical information, such as digital images, documents, and pre-recorded videos, to a practitioner, usually a specialist, who uses the information to evaluate the case or render a service outside of a real-time or live interaction.
A first-hand look at how store-and-forward could work in a clinic setting.
As compared to a real-time visit, Store-and-forward services provide access to data after it has been collected, and involve communication tools such as secure email.
That data can include X-rays, MRIs, photos, patient data, and even video-exam clips. Store-and-forward communications primarily take place among medical professionals to aid in diagnoses and medical consultations when live video or face-to-face contact is not necessary. Because these consultations do not require the specialist, the primary care provider and the patient to be available simultaneously, the need for coordinating schedules is removed, and the efficiency of the health care services is increased.
These technologies provide important benefits to patients and providers. Some of these benefits include:
- Patients can get timely specialty care without needing to travel beyond the location of their primary care providers.
- Wait times for specialty care are lessened, especially in areas with shortages of medical specialists.
- Primary care providers and medical specialists can review patient cases, regardless of their respective locations.
- Medical specialists can review patient cases when it is convenient for them.
- The Store-and-forward process can overcome language and cultural barriers.
Store-and-forward technologies are most commonly used in radiology, pathology, dermatology, and ophthalmology:
- In radiology, physicians at small rural hospitals can forward X-rays or MRI’s to specialists at major medical centers for review.
- In dermatology, primary care providers can take digital photos of their patients’ skin conditions and forward the images to dermatologists for review and determination of treatment if needed.
- In ophthalmology, eye screenings for diabetic retinopathy, a disease that is a major cause of blindness among individuals with diabetes, can be captured digitally by retinal cameras and transmitted to a specialist for review. These screenings are particularly effective in preventing vision loss or blindness.
Store-and-forward is also commonly used for electronic consultations (eConsults). eConsult is a web-based system that allows a primary care physician (PCP) and a specialist to securely share health information and discuss patient care. This physician-to-physician eConsult reduces the need for unnecessary specialty referrals as patient’s needs are resolved through the PCP.
It is important to note that store-and-forward services are not always reimbursable by private insurers, and Medicaid policies on this issue vary from state to state.