When I started medical school in 1976, doctors were taught that their job was to diagnose a patient’s illness and then tell the patient what to do. It was an approach that trained individual doctors to act individually. In many health care situations, that’s good and appropriate. But, in complex health situations like cancer, it often isn’t in the patient’s best interest.
Typically, that kind of “one doctor at a time” approach shuffles patients from surgeons to radiation oncologists to medical oncologists. Patients often get three different recommendations about what to do because each doctor is trying to do his or her best as an individual, based on his or her individual area of expertise.
The world of cancer care is changing. That confusing, disjointed approach is from a bygone era. And what patients want is changing. At ThedaCare, we’re learning from our patients that what they want is a team-based recommendation that accounts for what is most important to them and that keeps their primary care doctor in the loop. They want doctors who specialize in cancer care to collaborate, and they want that collaborative team to include other specialists like a genetic counselor, a palliative care doctor and other relevant experts. Ultimately, they want that team to explain the care options so they can make informed decisions that fit their lifestyle, preferences and personal needs.
ThedaCare is launching our new medical oncology program in our new regional cancer center because we believe patients come first. As a leader and innovator in the kind of care that patients value – care that is high quality at reasonable cost – we believe we have identified a better way to deliver cancer care.
Our new model addresses the whole person – mind, body and spirit – and it includes family, friends and the community. We’ve hired three medical oncologists, including the first woman medical oncologist in the area. These experts bring deep experience and genuine passion for working with cancer patients and their families, will actively support our vision and will work diligently to implement our cancer care model.
ThedaCare’s model is built around our clinical care team, as well as keeping close connections to a patient’s primary care doctor. It also includes behavioral health supports, e-consultations with specialists in 22 specific types of cancer at the Mayo Clinic, videoconferencing to facilitate discussions among patients and doctors, palliative care, hospice care, survivorship care, financial counseling, connections to community resources, care navigation support, and complementary treatment options like acupuncture, aromatherapy, yoga and prayer.
Just a few weeks ago I talked with our great volunteers at Appleton Medical Center. I asked them to suggest the ideas they would most like to talk about. The No. 1 item on their lists was cancer. So, we talked about cancer for 40 minutes. I mentioned that we want to better integrate palliative and hospice care options for our cancer patients. The volunteers went on and on about how great it would be if we could deliver team-based care with all the available services and options explained to patients and their families. Then, they could make informed choices. Their message to me was simple – make it so!
That’s just what we’re doing. There’s a new kind of cancer care in the region. It’s a comprehensive, collaborative approach that gives patients and their families options that lead to peace of mind, practical solutions and a better quality of life. Yes, indeed. Cancer care has come a long way.
Dr. Dean Gruner is president and CEO of Appleton-based ThedaCare. To send your thoughts to Gruner, email firstname.lastname@example.org.