Historically, management of overactive bladder (OAB) can be seen to have failed to fully address the needs of patients. A majority of patients with OAB report their symptoms have a significant impact on daily living and seek medical help. Yet in at least one study (which, is, admittedly, more than 15 years old) only about 1/4 of those patients were receiving treatment at the time evaluated. Half of those patients who did not seek treatment believed that no treatment was available. Furthermore, we know that a significant number of people will fail to see satisfactory improvement with early therapies including behavioral changes and medications. Few of these people are treated with more advanced therapies intended for those patients patients with these refractory symptoms.
A care pathway is a set of steps designed to effectively manage a patient’s journey from disease to health. It is essentially a “roadmap” of how we believe a patient should be diagnosed and treated for a given problem.
It provides a standard set of instructions as to how we should care for patients and should be based on the most current guidelines and evidence available. It would seem logical that an optimized patient care pathway for OAB should lead to better outcomes. Furthermore, illustrating the care pathway in a way patients can see and understand (we use a “roadmap”) can help patients to see what to expect as they undergo evaluation and treatment.
In developing our OAB Care Pathway, we first sought to define what the initial steps should be in evaluating patients thought to have OAB. The initial evaluation of OAB begins with a thorough, but otherwise simple evaluation including a history of symptoms and other medical problems, as well as a physical exam designed to identify any other conditions that may mimic OAB. It is clear that for most patients with OAB, expensive and invasive tests are not needed for the evaluation.
An OAB Care Pathway should define the appropriate therapies for treating OAB. This includes behavioral changes, oral and dermal medications, percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation, sacral neuromodulation, and botulinum toxin. An optimized pathway considers not just what treatments can be used but the ideal order for those treatments. In the case of OAB, you would not want to begin with a treatment such as sacral neuromodulation before trying a more conservative therapy such as behavioral changes or medications. Again, consultation with available guidelines is helpful in defining which therapies are appropriate and when they should be used.
It is important for patients to have an idea of how long they should expect before a treatment begins to work. We use “mile markers” along the way so that patients can anticipate how long before they may see improvement.
A care pathway does little good if patients are blocked from making progress by barriers such as treatment side effects, problems with insurance coverage, or need for more advanced testing. In The OAB Clinic, an OAB Navigator assigned to each patient serves as a guide along the journey. She can help patients get back on track by answering questions, helping to facilitate medication changes, or arranging ahead of time for any needed tests. This helps to decrease the need for frequent visits, eliminating many of the “stops” along the way.
In The OAB Clinic, a part of UT Erlanger Urology in Chattanooga, Tennessee, our use of an optimized Patient Care Pathway has helped to significantly reduce those patients who leave the road to bladder health because of confusion or frustration. We have seen the number of patients “lost” plummet from about 70% to about 7%. This means that more patients are able to reach their bladder goals. With our care pathway, we hope to continue to change the history of OAB for all.
Colin M. Goudelocke M.D. FPMRS