The levels of burnout in our specialty are increasing as too many of us—90% of the 42,000 ob.gyns in the United States—continue to pursue generalist careers.
We attempt to do it all, from primary care to obstetrics to surgery, and are being pulled in too many directions while losing any sense of control in our professional and personal lives.
There are alternatives to the model of being everything to every patient, however, and adopting office-based procedures can be a key component to making changes successfully.
Most of us perform in-office endometrial biopsies, colposcopy with biopsies, LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedures), and IUD insertions. Yet it is estimated that fewer than 30% of ob.gyns. do appreciable hysteroscopy in any setting, and fewer than 5%–10% do office hysteroscopy.
Many of us believe that office-based procedures are potentially dangerous and that they are painful and will not be tolerated by patients.
We argue against an increased level of office-based procedures on the premise that the equipment costs too much, the required skill level is too high, we don't see enough patients who are candidates for these procedures, we don't have procedure rooms, or the integration of more procedures into our existing schedules is just too complex or difficult.
Increasingly, these beliefs are countered by contrasting realities: more medical knowledge, more training opportunities, more reasonably priced equipment, and appropriate third-party reimbursement for office-based hysteroscopic procedures.
These realities have made hysteroscopy the base technology for a successful gynecology-focused office-based practice.
With commitment, those ob.gyns. who enjoy doing procedures can build successful office-based practices by offering a full spectrum of diagnostic and minor operative hysteroscopic procedures that are just as safe, tolerable, and effective as they are in the hospital.
In doing so, they can provide more thorough and efficient care in a more comfortable, familiar, and cost-effective setting.
Less Anesthesia, More Accuracy
The most significant misconception among ob.gyns.–and probably the largest barrier to wider use of in-office hysteroscopy—relates to pain.
The perceptions are fueled by the operating room experience, where intravenous sedation causes patients to lose inhibition and the ability to follow directions and control their actions.
Patients perceive touch and other stimuli as pain, and the loss of inhibition often escalates as the anesthesist applies even more IV sedation in an effort to make them more comfortable.
This is often perceived as intolerance for pain, and ob.gyns. leave the operating room thinking that if patients cannot tolerate hysteroscopy in that setting, they will certainly not tolerate it in the office.
In reality, patients can tolerate procedures very well—and with less anesthesia—if they know what to expect and if they're in control of their bodies and the overall situation. This happens more readily in the office environment, which is familiar, less intimidating, and more comfortable for patients.
In addition to the comfort that comes with familiarity, the office environment offers distractions that lessen the perception and feeling of pain, and the small-diameter hysteroscopes that are available to us today are no larger than a Pipelle curette and can usually be guided easily through the cervix without dilation, paracervical blocks, or the use of a tenaculum. A simple diagnostic hysteroscopy takes, on average, 5 minutes or less and is extremely well tolerated. It is less painful than an endometrial biopsy.
Patients are often interested in watching the video monitor during a hysteroscopic procedure. Their understanding and comfort level are greater when they can see the findings—can see in living color, for instance, what polyps, fibroids, or intrauterine adhesions are.
Of equal or more importance, hysteroscopy provides a focused view that has significant and measurable clinical benefits.
Ob.gyns. are more attuned to ultrasound; it's readily available, and the global view of the pelvis, uterus, and adnexa that it provides is often viewed as adequate. Saline infusion sonography has certainly improved diagnostic accuracy.
Hysteroscopy, however, offers a more focused view and gives us the ability to investigate and to do a targeted biopsy under direct vision. It simply provides for greater accuracy and more thorough care. Hysteroscopy should be viewed as complementary to ultrasound rather than as an alternative.
Hysteroscopy is the standard for evaluating abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB), a problem that affects more than 10 million women a year and is the reason for 25% of all gynecologic clinic visits.
Although endometrial biopsy is effective for diagnosing diffuse disease such as hyperplasia and carcinoma, it often misses focal lesions like endometrial polyps and fibroids, which are common causes of AUB.
Hysteroscopy should be considered in all patients who require an endometrial biopsy. It has been shown to have a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 95% in evaluating the uterine cavity.