How these cancer center partnerships are paying dividends

Partnerships, shared resources help to improve oncology care

Health systems increasingly are collaborating with National Cancer Institute-designated centers to improve quality and expand access to cancer care, Elizabeth Whitman writes for Modern Healthcare.

Cancer treatment has become increasingly complex and individualized, and the expertise needed to deliver that care often lies in specialized cancer centers, Whitman says. But the centers are not always easily accessible to patients, who increasingly want to receive care closer to home.

The answer for some hospitals, according to Whitman, has been to partner with cancer centers in order to share resources and expand patients' access to clinical trials that test experimental drugs.

Cancer care partnerships

Many partnerships with cancer centers aim to achieve similar goals, but each one looks a little bit different, Whitman writes.

For example, Massachusetts-based Berkshire Medical Center in September 2015 partnered with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center. When the partnership began, the cancer center spent a week evaluating the medical center's cancer care program.

Dana Farber recommended very few changes, according to David Phelps, CEO of Berkshire Health Systems. But the center continues to assess the hospital annually. The partnership also allows Berkshire to send patients to Dana Farber for second opinions, high-end surgeries, and treatment for rare cancers.

"We wanted a relationship that would allow our clinicians and providers to maintain their knowledge and education," Phelps said.

Meanwhile, Cooper University Health Care in Camden, New Jersey, has joined forces with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Under the partnership, physicians can present complex cases to a board of Cooper and MD Anderson experts on a particular form of cancer.

Generosa Grana, director of the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, said, "It's a very easy dialogue because we have this relationship."

Scripps Health in San Diego also has partnered with MD Anderson, which spent six months evaluating cancer care at Scripps.

Scripps CEO Chris Van Gorder said, "They came back and said if you were part of us, we'd have certain expectations to change your cancer program and work in a much more integrated way."

Scripps over the next year is working to modify nearly 100 different practice standards—including those related to patient protocols and clinical research—to align with those at MD Anderson. Scripps also will gain access to MD Anderson's specialists, clinical trials, and tumor boards.

Positive effects

These partnerships can have wide-ranging effects, from boosting finances to improving outcomes, Whitman writes.

After partnering with MD Anderson in October 2013, revenue at Cooper's cancer center increased 22 percent the next year, and it increase a further 18 percent between 2014 and 2015. Patient volume increased by 20 percent during that time.

Meanwhile, the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper has a 0.36 observed-to-expected mortality rate—which means its actual mortality rate is 64 percent lower than expected, according to Cooper CEO Adrienne Kirby (Whitman, Modern Healthcare, 11/26).

Have you optimized your cancer program's online presence?

Have you optimized your cancer program's online presence?

Cancer patients and their families are turning to the web to research providers and make important decisions about their care. That's why your cancer program needs to provide them with meaningful information online.

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