Primary care is important to Kara Pacala, MD, a Family Medicine physician with University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians). In primary care, patients and their doctors are able to help prevent certain health conditions, detect and treat diseases early and manage any chronic diseases, according to Dr. Pacala. “It’s all part of the relationship we share,” she says.

What’s unique about primary care in Minnesota, though, is that the state is home to one of the top three medical schools in the U.S. for it, the U of M Medical School, where Dr. Pacala is also an assistant professor. 

For the past 20 years, in addition to teaching generations of primary care physicians, Dr. Pacala has been caring for patients in the Twin Cities of all ages and walks of life, which is part of what she loves. “We take care of patients from prenatal care to end of life care,” she says, “And we’re charged with knowing a lot of things and knowing how to do a lot of things.”

This is a commitment of time and effort, Dr. Pacala notes, and it has a real impact, especially when patients and their doctors can have a close, trusting relationship. 

There are cases, too, where primary care physicians expand those relationships to include colleagues across a wide range of specialties– over 90 with M Physicians– and those colleagues can become partners in care for patients who need it. “We can rely on the expertise of our specialist colleagues to co-manage or manage acute and chronic problems that arise for our patients,” Dr. Pacala adds. 

Getting past the wait

Too often, though, many patients who may need care with a specialist can end up waiting for months to be able to see them, Dr. Pacala says. In Minnesota, M Physicians and M Health Fairview have developed ways of bringing that time down from months to days and weeks using telehealth.

“We call it ‘eConsult,’” Dr. Pacala says, “And it’s a fast way of getting insights and expertise from our specialist colleagues for our patients when they need it.” 

The process is fairly simple. In many cases, if a patient visits their primary care physician who believes a specialist’s perspective would be the best path to follow, they often have to refer the patient to see the specialist, placing them on a waitlist that could be monthslong. 

With eConsult, M Physicians clinicians can request insight from their trusted specialty colleagues through a telehealth tool, and in most cases, they get the answers they need within two days. 

Dr. Pacala especially appreciates the way this can help remove barriers for patients. “It cuts out a lot of the complicated and often consuming scheduling and communication issues our patients may face,” Dr. Pacala notes, “And it’s covered by the majority of insurance programs.”

“And, if a specialist determines that they need to see a patient in person, they often facilitate that happening.”

Telehealth in action

Dr. Pacala has used this telehealth tool to help one of her long-time patients who has increasingly struggled with her mental health. “I have cared for this lovely, elderly woman for years,” Dr. Pacala shares, “And she was not going to work directly with psychiatry for a number of reasons.” 

“I had questions about how we might help relieve some of her symptoms without her seeing a psychiatrist in person,” Dr. Pacala remembers, “So after obtaining her consent with the help of her family to use eConsult, we were able to help her get the care she needed.”

eConsult has also helped patients during the COVID-19 pandemic too. “In particular during the pandemic, it has allowed us to help patients access specialty care in ways that we didn't have before. It’s been an extremely helpful option for my patients during this last couple of years.” Dr. Pacala says. 

In the first three months of 2022 alone, over 430 M Physicians and M Health Fairview patients have received this kind of care in partnership with over 20 specialties.

Dr. Pacala sees this program continuing to grow, too, providing access for more patients to more specialists and enhancing the trusting relationship they have with their primary care physician.

To take a step towards building that kind of relationship with your primary care provider, you can make an appointment today.