A new wave of collaborative fibroid care is emerging. In an effort to improve fibroid treatment by offering well rounded care, a group of progressive doctors in Orange County, Cali., collectively formed The Fibroid Treatment Network.
“The goal of The Fibroid Treatment Network is to ensure women are informed of all their treatment options,” says Dr. Todd Harris, Surgeon and Fibroid Specialist at The Fibroid Treatment Center in Newport Beach, Calif., and founder of The Fibroid Treatment Network. “It all started about four years ago when I was treating a lot of fibroid patients who were unable to find a gynecologist in their area willing to offer other options beyond hysterectomy. Because of this, we formed The Fibroid Treatment Network, which is a loose affiliation of about 40 physicians in the community. We refer patients back and forth and work together to provide the best care possible.”
And according to some research, finding a gynecologist who will refer patients out to other fibroid care specialists may be a challenge. In the US alone, 600,000 hysterectomies are performed annually, with the majority done to treat benign conditions like fibroids.1 However, a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology revealed that almost one in five (18%) hysterectomies that were performed for benign conditions like fibroids were unnecessary.2 This number was seen to increase to nearly two in five (37.8%) women in the study under age 40. It also showed that there was no documentation of alternative treatments offered in 37.7% of women.
The unsettling reality behind the push for unnecessary hysterectomies may be that it’s a procedure only gynecologists are trained for and only feel comfortable doing. By referring a patient out to specialists who offer other minimally invasive treatment options, gynecologists may feel they are at risk of losing patients. However, research tells a much different story.
A hospital-based study looked at the outcomes of establishing a referral network between gynecologists and interventional radiologists—a type of doctor who performs a minimally invasive treatment option called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE).3 The study included 226 women seeking UFE for treatment of their fibroids. Of these women, 138 were referred to an interventional radiologist by a gynecologist and 88 were self-referred.
Any women in the study initially examined by an interventional radiologist were then referred to a gynecologist. Overall, 38% of the women underwent UFE. Those who did not were sent back to the referring gynecologist for further care. Results showed that 70% of self-referred patients and 92% of gynecologist-referred patients were satisfied with their original gynecologist and were referred back to their doctor for ongoing care. Patients who didn’t have a gynecologist or were unhappy with their original gynecologist were referred to a network gynecologist. Counting the women who were sent as new patients to gynecologists in the network, gynecologists saw an overall 119% return on the original 138 patients. In other words, for every patient who was referred out to another specialist, gynecologists got back nearly 1.2 patients or 20% more.3
What was also noticed was that women who chose a gynecologist in the network over their original doctor did so primarily because of “gynecologists failure to fully disclose treatment options or offer desired minimally invasive procedures.” The researchers of the study concluded that a collaborative referral network supports a “trusting, long-term, noncompetitive ‘win-win’ relationship” between specialties that actually “improves patient flow to a gynecologist practice”—and most importantly—“meets the patient’s desire for full disclosure.” 3
“In The Fibroid Treatment Network, we’ve found that having a collaborative referral base gives patients a group of doctors who are open-minded and who are going to do what’s best for the patient,” Dr. Harris explains. “Even if it means giving up a procedure or giving up a particular surgery that they don’t perform, gynecologists are still going to do what’s in the best interest of the patient. And at the same time, they’re still going to get that patient back after outside treatment and most likely have a life-long doctor-patient relationship because that level of trust is there.”
Dr. Harris takes this same approach in his own practice at The Fibroid Treatment Center. For every new patient who comes in for a consultation, Dr. Harris explains that he’ll continue to work with her gynecologist if she’s happy with her current gynecological care. If she’s not, then he’ll introduce her to gynecologists in The Fibroid Treatment Network in order to “bridge the care before and after treatment.”
Currently, The Fibroid Treatment Network is limited to Orange County, but Dr. Harris hopes their mission of “physicians dedicated to treating patients comprehensively” will catch on nationwide. “At the end of the day, as I say repeatedly, no one type of doctor can take care of every fibroid patient. It sometimes takes a team of doctors and different types of procedures to best care for a patient.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a health freelance writer and editor, registered dietitian nutritionist, and certified holistic life coach. She has master’s degrees in English education and nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and well-being. She is a paid consultant of Merit Medical.
ABOUT THE DOCTOR Todd S. Harris, MD, is medical director of The Fibroid Treatment Center. Board certified in general surgery, as well as fellowship trained in interventional radiology, Dr. Harris is highly experienced in fibroid surgery. Respected by both patients and doctors, Dr. Harris was awarded the prestigious 2017 Physician of Excellence Award by the Orange County Medical Association and published by Orange Coast Magazine. He was also awarded the rare and esteemed 2016 Southern California Super Doctors Rising Stars Award. Dr. Harris is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, one of the highest distinctions for a surgeon. Dr. Harris shares his knowledge and expertise by actively engaging in research and participating in volunteer work around the globe.