The effect of a gynecologist-interventional radiologist relationship on selection of treatment modality for the patient with uterine myoma

Robert K Zurawin, John H Fischer, Leah Amir
Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology 2010, 17 (2): 214-21

BACKGROUND: On the basis of consistent published scientific evidence, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has given uterine artery embolization (UAE) a level A recommendation as a viable alternative treatment for uterine myomas, describing it as a safe and effective option for appropriately selected women who wish to retain their uteri. Despite the growth of favorable clinical outcome information, many gynecologists do not routinely offer UAE as an alternative to abdominal hysterectomy or abdominal myomectomy. The percentage of laparoscopic hysterectomies in the United States remains less than 20%, reflecting the reluctance or inability of gynecologic surgeons to perform other minimally invasive procedures such as hysteroscopic myomectomy, laparoscopic myomectomy, laparoscopic hysterectomy, or even vaginal hysterectomy. Of great significance, many patients do not wish to have any kind of surgery, no matter how "minimally invasive." As a result, patients seeking less invasive treatments may bypass the gynecologist and be referred directly to an interventional radiologist by their primary care physician, or they may self-refer. Little has been published on the referral relationship between gynecologists and the interventional radiologist who performs uterine artery embolization. The absence of a structured routine referral relationship causes some women to undergo treatments that potentially are not aligned with all of her treatment desires. This study was undertaken to gain insight into the interventional radiologist-gynecologist dynamic and the benefit to patients who are informed of all of their options for the treatment of myomas.

STUDY OBJECTIVES: Investigate the course of myoma treatment in a cohort of patients either self-referred to an interventional radiologist or referred to the interventional radiologist by their gynecologist. Determine the effect of a cooperative referral network of interventional radiologists and gynecologists that informs patients about the options of UAE and minimally invasive surgical alternatives on the choice of myoma treatment.

STUDY DESIGN: Prospective data acquisition of patient referral source, UAE evaluation, patient decision on treatment options, and continued follow-up with a network gynecologist.

SETTING: Hospital-based interventional radiologist and gynecologist both practicing in a large urban teaching setting.

PATIENTS: A total of 226 women, representing 73% of women presenting to an interventional radiologist in 2007 seeking UAE for symptomatic myomas. One hundred thirty-eight of these patients were referred to the interventional radiologist by a gynecologist, and 88 were self-referred. Patient outcome relative to referral was traced with 76 patients in the myoma surgery group treated from 2007-2008 by a gynecologist in the referral network.

INTERVENTIONS: Evaluation for suitability for UAE procedure, followed either by UAE procedure with return to referring gynecologist for follow-up, return to referring gynecologist for treatment, or referral to another gynecologist for minimally invasive surgical management when the primary gynecologist is unable to perform alternative treatment.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: All patients in the study initially evaluated by the interventional radiologist were referred to a gynecologist. Overall, 62% of patients were candidates for UAE, and 38% underwent the procedure during the study period. Patients who did not receive UAE were returned to the referring gynecologist for further evaluation and treatment. Patients who underwent UAE were referred to a gynecologist for ongoing care. In all, 70% of self-referred patients and 92% of gynecologist-referred patients expressed satisfaction with their original gynecologist and were referred back to that physician. Patients who did not have a gynecologist or who were dissatisfied with their original gynecologist were referred to a network gynecologist for continued gynecologic care. In our study 26 self-referred women were sent as new patients to gynecologists in the interventional radiologist's referral network, resulting in a 119% return on the original 138 gynecologist-to-interventional radiologist-referred patients. Among the 8% of gynecologist-referred women who switched to a different gynecologist within the referral network, the primary reasons for dissatisfaction were the gynecologist's failure to fully disclose treatment options or offer desired minimally invasive procedures. On follow-up with a network gynecologist, 8 newly referred patients underwent myoma surgery, and 8 newly referred patients continued to be seen by that gynecologist. Four patients referred to the gynecologist for treatment were originally referred by the gynecologist to the interventional radiologist for UAE evaluation. Ten patients switched from their named gynecologist to a different gynecologist willing to disclose all treatment options for uterine myomas and able to provide minimally invasive surgical treatment as medically indicated. Of the 10 women who switched to this network gynecologist, 8 underwent myoma surgery.

CONCLUSIONS: Establishing a referral relationship with an interventional radiologist for comprehensive uterine myoma treatment supports a trusting, collaborative, long-term, noncompetitive "win-win" relationship between the gynecologist and radiologist, meets the patient's desire for full disclosure of all myoma treatment options, improves the patient's overall medical care and physician/patient experience, and has been demonstrated to improve patient flow to a gynecologist practice. With the guidelines established in this study, no patients were inappropriately left to the gynecologist for post-UAE care. The authors acknowledge that this dynamic is dependent on the individual interventional radiologist and their relationships and open communication with the gynecologist. Finally, the study revealed that failure to fully disclose alternative treatment options, or offer minimally invasive surgical techniques may result in a loss of patients due to patient dissatisfaction.


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