“NETWORK INTEGRITY” OR ACTUAL INTEGRITY? CHOOSING THE RIGHT SPECIALIST FOR YOU
When we worked in hospitals earlier in our careers and needed to find specialists for our patients, we always found them close at hand: fellow staff members who worked on the same campus. It wasn’t exactly a rule, but on the theory that “custom becomes law,” it may as well have been. This practice is called “network integrity,” and of course it makes sense to put patients in touch with other doctors who are easily accessible. The plain truth, however, is that the most convenient specialist isn’t necessarily the best specialist, so when we started the Sheldon Sowell Center, which is proudly not controlled by a big health care company, we knew we had to put your care — not our convenience — first.
In essence, we created our own network, interviewing hundreds of physicians of all stripes — as well as allied professionals like psychologists, podiatrists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and more — face-to-face, in our offices. And we’ve never stopped. After 22 years and counting, we continue to host these meetings regularly because, despite the emergence of “narrow networks” in the insurance-based world, doctors and patients can still be free agents and choose whom they work with. Network integrity is mainly about keeping money circulating within a big system, a model we roundly reject.
Why do we invest our time this way? Because although we make every effort to provide excellent care, our responsibility to you doesn’t start and stop at our door. Your experience and our care continues even when a specialist takes over. This is real continuity of care.
We try our best to match our patients with specialists who excel in their field, regardless of hospital affiliation. This may mean picking a gastroenterologist at Sky Ridge and a dermatologist downtown. We might ask our patients to drive past a nearby hospital to one at some distance, but they understand why we do this — we’re steering them toward our own unique set of specialists whose work we trust.
We’ve worked in and seen the work of other medical centers and believe our Colorado community is truly top-notch. But having said that, there are still times when what’s best for our patients can’t be found locally. That’s when we turn to national centers like the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, M.D. Anderson, Sloan Kettering, the University of California/San Francisco and others.
Not that traveling is by definition the wisest choice. Patients sometimes ask to be referred to, for example, the best hernia surgeon or the best oncologist irrespective of geography. If only there were such a thing! The fact is that there are plenty of good hernia surgeons, and the best oncologist may well be just the down the block. With a small number of exceptions there generally is no national “best,” yet there is always a best-for-YOU surgeon.
If traveling far from home for care, you’ve got to take into account the disruptions such a voyage can cause, including the difficulty for family and friends as they try to help you with long-term follow-up care. Especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic, being operated on close to home — even if that means forgoing a faraway surgeon who some magazine says is the “best” — can be the better choice for you.
The “network integrity” concept certainly makes sense in theory, but you know what they say about chains: They’re only as strong as their weakest link. With our approach, we work to make sure that every link in your chain of care is strong.
And if you’re concerned about responsiveness, don’t be. Specialists pick up when we call because the level of trust works both ways: Just as we value their judgment, they value ours, and they know we won’t ever waste their time with a medically inappropriate referral. In fact, we’ve been in situations where we’ve been able to set up near-instantaneous four-way consultations (the patient, us, the specialist, and a local hospital) over the phone while the patient was on a road trip. If the patient had to navigate the phone tree at an insurance-based practice, wait for a return call, and figure out for himself which hospital to roll up to, it might not have gone so smoothly.
Our referral network is never “done” — we’ll keep networking indefinitely because we view it as part of our job. In addition to clinical excellence, we select for those intangibles that can’t be taught in med school, like emotional intelligence and an innate sense of caring, so we can feel confident that you’ll feel confident with any specialist or surgeon we recommend.