Background Often promoted as a way to address increasing demands, improve patient accessibility, and improve overall efficiency, electronic consultations are becoming increasingly common in primary care, particularly in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite their increasing use, a theoretically informed understanding of the factors that support and inhibit their effective implementation is severely limited. Objective With this scoping review, we sought to identify the factors that support and inhibit the implementation of electronic consultations in primary care. Methods In total, 5 electronic databases (PubMed, Medline, Embase, CINAHL, and PsycINFO) were systematically searched for studies published in 2009-2019 that explored the impact and/or implementation of electronic consultations in primary care. Database searches were supplemented by reference list and grey literature searches. Data were analyzed using inductive thematic analysis and synthesized using Normalization Process Theory (NPT). Results In total, 227 articles were initially identified and 13 were included in this review. The main factors found to hinder implementation included awareness and expectations; low levels of engagement; perceived suitability for all patient groups, conditions, and demographics; cost; and other contextual factors. Reports of information technology reliability and clinical workload duplication (as opposed to reduction) also appeared detrimental. Conversely, the development of protocols and guidance; patient and staff education; strategic marketing; and patient and public involvement were all identified as beneficial in facilitating electronic consultation implementation. Conclusions This review highlights the need for proactive engagement with patients and staff to facilitate understanding and awareness, process optimization, and delivery of coherent training and education that maximizes impact and success. Although the necessity to use online methods during the COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated awareness, concerns over workload duplication and inequality of access may remain. Future research should explore health inequalities in electronic consultations and their economic impacts from multiple perspectives (eg, patient, professional, and commissioner) to determine their potential value. Further work to identify the role of meaningful patient involvement in digital innovation, implementation, and evaluation is also required following the rapid digitization of health and social care.



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Journal of Medical Internet Research







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Peninsula Medical School