MAUI, HAWAII (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Rheumatologists can save their patients time and the inconvenience of an unnecessary preprocedural office visit with a gastroenterologist by making a direct referral for GI endoscopy when appropriate, according to Uma Mahadevan, MD, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

“Many health systems have access issues, and in most accountable care organizations, there’s a need to see patients within 14 days. It’s often easier to direct refer for the endoscopic procedure you want than it is to get an office visit and then the procedure,” the gastroenterologist explained at the 2018 Rheumatology Winter Clinical Symposium.

There is, however, a right way and a wrong way to make a direct referral for GI endoscopy.

“We’re an open-access endoscopy center at UCSF, and I can’t tell you how many times a patient gets direct referred to us and – the night before the procedure, when we’re preparing for the case – we see that this patient can’t have a procedure tomorrow. Those patients have already done the bowel prep, they’re taking the day off work, they’ve arranged for someone to drive them, and they’re really mad,” said Dr. Mahadevan , who is also the medical director of the UCSF Center for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease.

Sometimes the procedure gets called off because the gastroenterologist sees that it would be inappropriate. For example, it would be inappropriate to perform an endoscopy on a patient with irritable bowel syndrome or fibromyalgia who has already had three negative endoscopic procedures in the past 5 years; alternatively, a screening colonoscopy would be inappropriate for an 80-year-old because the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force gives a class A recommendation for screening colonoscopy only during ages 50-75 years.

Sometimes the physician who made the direct referral failed to include other key information the gastroenterologist needed to have in advance of the procedure. For example, a morbidly obese patient or an individual with significant cardiovascular or pulmonary disease generally needs to have an anesthesiologist present for GI endoscopy, rather than a nurse anesthetist, since the airway is suspect. Similarly, a patient with a severe anxiety disorder or tolerance to pain medication is unlikely to be adequately sedated with the fentanyl and midazolam (Versed) used for moderate sedation in most upper endoscopy and colonoscopy procedures; those individuals are going to require deep sedation with propofol (Diprivan) and assistance in maintaining a patent airway.

“Your patient taking Oxycodone every day is not going to get sedated with fentanyl and midazolam. So you need to put that information on your direct request,” she stressed.

“If your patient has obstructive sleep apnea and is on CPAP at home, or if your patient is on home oxygen, your gastroenterologist needs to know that because those are the patients we bring into the office to evaluate the airway ahead of time,” according to the gastroenterologist.

Also, while routine direct referral for colonoscopy to rule out comorbid inflammatory bowel disease is entirely appropriate in patients with ankylosing spondylitis or other spondyloarthropathies, if they had ankylosing spondylitis in the prebiologic era, then it’s important to include that information.

“If they did, their neck is often dangerous for sedation. They’re very difficult to intubate. That’s something we need to know,” Dr. Mahadevan continued.

Other patient information gastroenterologists want included in the direct referral: Is the patient on daily aspirin and/or a thienopyridine antiplatelet agent or on oral anticoagulation with warfarin or one of the newer direct-acting oral anticoagulants? American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy guidelines have detailed how to manage antithrombotic agents in patients undergoing GI endoscopy, including when and how to bridge with low-molecular-weight heparin in the days prior to the procedure ( Gastrointest Endosc. 2016 Jan;83[1]:3-16 ). Of note, the guidelines rate diagnostic esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) and colonoscopy, even with biopsies taken, as low-bleeding-risk procedures that therefore don’t require stopping antithrombotic therapy.

In addition to screening or surveillance colonoscopy, rheumatologists might also direct refer patients for GI endoscopy because they have iron-deficiency anemia, in which case evaluation by both EGD and colonoscopy is necessary. Direct referral for EGD in patients with celiac disease is appropriate. Acute GI bleeding is best handled via direct referral for colonoscopy in a patient with hematochezia and for EGD in the setting of melena. Direct referral for endoscopy is also warranted in patients with polymyalgia rheumatica or dermatomyositis, where the indication is to rule out associated malignancy.

Dr. Mahadevan reported having no financial conflicts regarding her presentation.