Helping to Improve Cancer Patients’ Care Treatment Experience

Radiation oncology treatment planning

Brand Story – Kaiser Permanente cancer case conferences provide expert guidance and coordination of care from the moment of diagnosis.

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When COVID-19 hit and grew to a global pandemic, routine medical care dropped off across the United States and most elective surgeries were canceled or postponed — in part because people felt hesitant to enter medical facilities but also because hospitals needed to conserve personal protective equipment. Disease didn’t go away, however, and it remained crucial for people to get necessary care, especially for cancer.

Early on, Kaiser Permanente took advantage of virtual conferencing tools both for patient visits and for weekly cancer case conferences, which gather experts from multiple disciplines to review patient files and make treatment recommendations.

Currently the organization holds 11 case conferences, each focused on a different type of cancer, and will add more as needed. Teams might include a physician from medical oncology, radiation oncology, and surgery, a radiologist, a pathologist, and a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist for GI-related cancers. These doctors review patient charts, including radiology images and reports, lab work, and other pertinent details, then talk through next steps.

NWPermanente Radiology Dec11 2019 0025Conference attendees engage in a stand-up hallway meeting.*

Also on board is a nurse navigator, who introduces cases, schedules appointments and procedures, and maintains individual contact with patients. These nurses get to know patients and learn any limitations they might have, such as transportation, economic, or home care challenges.

“We have a very robust team of nurse navigators that is very unique to the region,” says Christine Barnett, M.D., medical director for cancer service line and chief of hematology. “When you are first diagnosed with cancer, your first touch will be with a nurse navigator who will coordinate all of your appointments through different parts of the cancer spectrum for you, and basically navigate you through the process.”

Any doctor within the Kaiser Permanente system can refer a patient for cancer case conference review, whether the patient has a definitive diagnosis or just questionable imaging results. Teams also sort through the organization’s electronic medical records system to search for radiology results that might suggest cancer. The goal is to get patients diagnosed and into treatment as quickly as possible. For instance, if a case conference team believes a cancer warrants surgery, the nurse navigator can begin checking schedules and getting plans in place right away. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year cancer survival rate has increased nationwide, in part due to early treatment and access to high-quality care.

NWPermanente Radiology Dec11 2019 0153Dr. Tasha McDonald, Chief of Radiation Oncology (left); Dr. Pavlos Papavasiliou, Chief of General Surgery; Dr. Christine Barnett, Medical Director for Cancer Service Line and Chief of Hematology and Medical Oncology*

Case conferences improve coordination of care, thereby reducing unnecessary patient visits. Having expert opinions at the ready when a patient meets with their oncologist benefits a patient’s health and pocketbook while also saving employers money. According to a 2017 article in The Self Insurer magazine, “…for every 100 employees in the workforce, 5 percent will have a history of cancer and 27.1 percent of employees will be in treatment for cancer.” Not only that: “Cancer treatment alone accounts for 12 percent of employers’ total medical costs in the United States, with $125 billion spent on direct medical costs.”

Most important, though, is a patient’s health and quality of life.

“The Kaiser Permanente cancer care model really benefits patients because of the level of integration of care,” says Rebecca Hammon, M.D., surgical oncologist. “I haven’t seen this everywhere that I’ve worked, but I definitely feel like the patients here are receiving care in a very timely manner, at the highest level of care and that outcome really impacts their entire lives.”

* Images taken pre-COVID-19.


Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.