Sitka was born out of frustration—the frustration experienced by patients who wait weeks or months to access specialty care and the frustration of specialty physicians, who often end up seeing the wrong patients at the wrong time. As noted recently by the New York Times (The Moral Crisis of America’s Doctors), many physicians have experienced unhappiness and frustration “not because they were burned out from working too hard but because the health care system made it so difficult to care for their patients.”
At Sitka, we have intentionally curated a network of specialist physicians who aren’t only experts in their field, but are also passionate about collaborating with value-based primary care providers (PCPs) to manage Medicare Part B spend. When PCPs consult with Sitka specialists, an in-person referral is avoided 87% of the time. One of these specialist physicians is Dr. Traci Vaughn, an accomplished otolaryngologist practicing in New Orleans for over 20 years. I recently had the chance to speak with Dr. Vaughn about her experience as a Sitka specialist.
Like many specialist physicians, Dr. Vaughn is concerned about obstacles and delays experienced by patients trying to access her care, which directly impact health outcomes. Her desire to improve patient access is what led her to Sitka, and she loves being able to expand her impact and relieve the specialty referral backlog via peer-to-peer consults.
As a Sitka otolaryngologist (ENT physician), Dr. Vaughn consults with PCPs throughout the country on a wide variety of conditions, including allergies, sinus infections, nosebleeds, ear infections, hearing loss, vertigo, masses in the mouth or neck, hoarseness, and swallowing problems. Frequently, issues such as vertigo or difficulty swallowing cause significant anxiety for patients. With Sitka, these patients’ PCPs receive answers and guidance from Dr. Vaughn within hours, as opposed to the weeks it might take for an in-person referral. In fact, the median response time for a Sitka ENT consult is less than 2.5 hours!
Dr. Vaughn has been impressed by the PCPs she consults with via Sitka. “My PCP colleagues are well-versed in the basics of ear, nose, and throat disorders and know when to ask for guidance. Some PCPs already have an idea of the diagnosis when they consult with me.” When necessary, she is able to instruct PCPs in the examination of patients and often reviews photographs for them. “Ultimately, my goal is to empower them and help the patient to the best of my ability.” This is exactly how Sitka is meant to work—PCPs remain at the helm of patient care whenever possible.
Since otolaryngology is both a medical and surgical specialty, PCPs often pose questions about surgical treatment and whether it is indicated or not. “In the past, these PCPs have had no access to an ENT specialist to pose questions or to get their patients an appointment,” says Dr. Vaughn. “Now they can navigate this chasm in access via asynchronous consult, thereby facilitating better patient outcomes.”
Importantly, Sitka consults are not “one and done.” A lot of back-and-forth communication happens on the platform (an average of 4.2 interactions per consult), and Dr. Vaughn enjoys the sense of collegiality this creates. She always encourages PCPs to follow up with additional questions and appreciates when they let her know what happens with their patients. She is actually getting to know some of the PCPs on the platform and notes how refreshing it is when they thank her for her assistance in caring for their patients. But primarily, she feels a sense of relief at being able to help more patients via Sitka. “I think that's amazing,” she says. “I am empowered by an innovative, efficient platform that enables me to impact access to ENT services nationally.”