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Virtual Second Opinion Services for Imaging Taking Hold


Virtual second opinion services allow patients to upload images and medical information for physician review. Here’s one institution’s experience.

The advancement of the Internet has changed practically every business in every sphere of influence. The medical world is no exception. Leading healthcare institutions are now implementing unique collaboration platforms in the form of second opinion services. As doctors, this allows us to expand our medical reach and help as many patients as possible.    

To give you a bit of context, allow me to share my personal experience. At Barrow Neurological Institute (BNI), located in Phoenix, Ariz., we have patients from all over the world coming to us to seek second opinions on medical diagnoses. With a few clicks, patients can upload healthcare information and gain insight into medical conditions without traveling hundreds, or even thousands, of miles.   

While our process for receiving second opinions is now seamless, this was not always the case. 

Prior to implementing our current second opinion platform, our online portal granted us access to some patient information, but due to complex file formats, we usually relied on courier services for image exams. As you can imagine, this significantly slowed the patient care process.  

We would wait days for a patient’s CD to arrive in the mail. Once it arrived, it had to be matched with the associated medical report. This not only caused bottlenecks during the evaluation process, it also created unnecessary work for the medical staff. It was by far our biggest challenge with our second opinion program. 

To address these issues, we decided to try a new image sharing service. We implemented a self- service portal that allows patients to securely upload complex medical images and associated reports directly to our institution. It was a new service, and we were not sure what to expect. 

We are now a few months into the implementation. Our volume is quite high, which is a good problem to have. Within the first thirty days of installing our second opinion program, BNI received 30 additional second opinion referrals and scheduled six new surgeries. 

If you are looking to implement a virtual second opinion program, make sure to focus on making the submittal process as streamlined as possible. You may need to assess several technologies in order to get it right.

Here were a few features we valued during the buying process:

User-friendly: Patients of all ages are going to be seeking second opinions. You want to ensure that the second opinion platform you choose is easy to use, even for the patients who are not fully comfortable with technology. After signing in, patients should be given step-by-step instructions on the screen. The doctors and medical staff should find the interface very intuitive as well. 

Website integration: It is important that the second opinion solution you choose can be integrated into your website. Custom branding of the site is important so patients recognize that their important medical information is going to the appropriate institution, and not a third-party vendor.

Easy setup: Our system was up and running in just a few hours. There was no hardware to install, and the vendor we chose didn’t even require VPNs. It is important to get your second opinion service successful quickly so that you can begin growing your program.

Optional credit card feature: BNI chose to add a credit card integration feature with the assumption that it would increase qualified leads. We charge $100 for each patient record uploaded to ensure the individuals have thought about where they are sending their information for diagnosis. This has filtered out people who actually need a second opinion from patients who are submitting their medical information to multiple institutions. Currently, the virtual service is not reimbursable by insurance.

 John Karis, MD, is a neuroradiologist at Barrow Neurological Institute

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