NORTON, Va. - When trying to solve a complex problem, two heads are better than one. The expert specialists at the Southwest Virginia Cancer Center, which is part of the Wellmont Cancer Institute, involve an entire community of multispecialty caregivers to focus their collective efforts on determining the best course of action for specific cancer cases.
Each week, physicians, nurses and other staff at the Southwest Virginia Cancer Center gather in a meeting room to teleconference with colleagues at the Christine LaGuardia Phillips Cancer Center at Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport. They have one overarching goal: determine the most effective treatment plans for patients with complicated cancer diagnoses.
These meetings, called cancer conferences, utilize advanced teleconferencing technology that allows experts in Norton and Kingsport to simultaneously view scans, test results and other information in real time – without having to take time away from patients to drive long distances to meetings each week.
"The cancer conferences give participants the chance to discuss more difficult, complex cancer cases," said Dr. Hayan Moualla, a Southwest Virginia Cancer Center medical oncologist who practices with Wellmont Medical Associates Oncology & Hematology. "Patients benefit by getting a room full of experts to weigh in on their cases. We get multiple brains working on and thinking about patient cases."
Patients also receive a speedier treatment plan. "The cancer conferences are particularly beneficial for patients because a treatment plan can be generated more quickly," said Karla Lane, the Southwest Virginia Cancer Center's director. "Everyone is in the same room at the same time. It breaks down the time barrier because there's no need to wait for replies to calls or emails."
Among the professionals in the rooms in Kingsport and Norton are medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, research nurses, a genetic counselor , a research nurse and other nurses
Cancer conferences give physicians and other staff members the chance to learn from each other – and having the team at Norton meet with the team from Kingsport every week allows for even more ideas and expert discussion.
"Even though the conferences are meant to help patients, they help me as a physician as well," Dr. Moualla said "They help me better take care of patients because I get to hear multiple perspectives, and I learn as we discuss the cases."
Cancer conferences are considered a best practice in the treatment of cancer. "Cancer conferences are highly encouraged by authorities in the cancer treatment world," said Dr. Moualla. "They are part of the quality measures agreed upon by experts in the field worldwide."
In addition to providing patients with a variety of expert opinions and giving the medical team opportunities to learn, studies have shown cancer conferences improve patient outcomes. They also represent the commitment of the Southwest Virginia Cancer Center – and all of the members of the Wellmont Cancer Institute – to help patients fight and beat cancer as a team.
"We don't stop thinking about our patients when they leave the office," Lane said. "We care about our patients and are committed to providing them the best care available anywhere, right here, close to home."