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Second opinion by phone is a free, 24/7 'lifeline'

Medcon operators connect regional clinicians and surgeons with UW Medicine specialists. Frequent users call the service indispensable.

Dr. Juris Macs knows. So do Drs. John Horstkamp, Yvana Iovino, Mitch Garrison and scores of other physicians in the Pacific Northwest.

They know Medcon’s value to their practice:

“A great point of access.”

Guiding patient management to “the best way it can be.”

“The easiest way to get an opinion from a subspecialist.”

“There's always someone on the other end willing to pick up. It could be the middle of the night.”
Sherry Rodriguez and Bill Peiffer have answered thousands of physicians’ calls to Medcon.
Medcon is a 24/7, toll-free phone line to UW Medicine experts in oncology, cardiology, OB/GYN, infectious disease, neurology and other specialties. UW’s School of Medicine has sponsored the service since 1975, and healthcare professionals in the know, particularly those in rural areas, attest to its worth.

Dr. Yvana Iovino, an OB/GYN in Toppenish, Wash., calls “anytime I need to talk to someone, pick at their brain,” she said. “It's been tremendously useful over the years. Dr. (Brent) Rowe and I are fairly frequent users,” said Juris Macs, a longtime general surgeon in Aberdeen, Wash. “The latest was about sending a patient to Dr. Surawicz, about recurring C. difficile colitis and the referral to Harborview.

“This opportunity to discuss patient issues is a big advantage.”

For Dr. Iovino, an OB/GYN at the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic in Toppenish, Medcon is “a lifeline.”

“We use it all the time for high-risk OB patients to get perinatologists on the phone, to get GYN oncologists. I’ve called on endocrinology and general surgery,” she said. “We are really isolated, so they understand when to tell us to bring the person in and not to have us wait it out with the patient if something is going wrong.”

Medcon facilitates discussions about patient cases but callers are advised that exchanges do not constitute formal consultations and that they must rely on their own judgment for decisions involving clinical care – or refer the patient.

Dr. John Horstkamp of Pullman, Wash., describes Medcon’s utility. (1:00 audio) “This is an educational and referral service,” said April Delgado, who oversees Medcon as well as UW Medicine’s Transfer Center. “The nature of calls is generally complex patients, not the level of primary or secondary care but not urgent, either.”

Medcon’s operators managed 13,000 calls in 2011. The availability of information on the web has reduced volumes, but users perceive the program as a significant resource.

Garrison, a medical oncologist, said he has called frequently in five years at the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

“Usually it’s for advice or coordinating the timing of chemo or radiation therapy for a patient who is shared between institutions. It’s nice to have one number to call, and the operators are phenomenal.”

The Wenatchee hospital is a network site for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, “so we have very strong relationship that's developed with UW Medicine oncologists that work at the SCCA. If there's a certain surgery that we don't perform, I’ll call to coordinate preoperative care here and eventual surgical care (in Seattle),” Garrison said.

In Pullman, John Horstkamp, a family doctor of 22 years, calls Medcon about twice a month.

“I've been satisfied with the service, with the quality of consultations. If I think I know the right thing to do but I want to run it by somebody, Medcon is who I call, almost always.”

Contact Medcon at 800.326.5300.

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