When it comes to cancer, the best medicine is preventive, but there’s more to it than simply maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Routine screenings should also be a part of your plan, because cancer can be treated more easily, and often has higher cure rates, when it is caught early. However, cancer patients tend to have complex medical needs, so when a screening comes back positive, it can make a big difference when you have a care team that not only harnesses the latest medical knowledge and technology, but also coordinates your care across specialties and guides you through every step of your journey.
The importance of screenings
Cancer screening is built into care at Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and it all starts with our electronic health record (EHR) system. The EHR allows physicians to communicate, stay up to date on patient care, and ensure members get the screenings they’re due for through automatic screening reminders. It also helps prevent duplication of tests and services. Kaiser Permanente consistently ranks at the top, or among the top, of health care providers in Colorado for lung, colorectal, cervical, and other types of cancer screenings.
How coordinated care works
The connectedness among doctors enabled by the EHR is critical to cancer care. It “can help doctors and other members of the health care team provide higher-quality, better-managed, and safe care for patients,” says the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
A recent example of how this works at Kaiser Permanente Colorado involves a member who had a long history of recurrent major depression. The member was diagnosed with cancer, underwent surgery, and was to be prescribed a drug commonly used for cancer treatment. The member’s psychiatrist recognized that the drug could react adversely with two anti-depressant medications the patient was taking. Using the EHR, the psychiatrist coordinated care with the oncologist, radiation oncologist, cancer surgeon, and psychiatric clinical pharmacy specialist to ensure that the member received different but equally effective anti-depressant medication that did not compromise the effectiveness of the cancer medication.
Outside of Kaiser Permanente, this level of care coordination might not occur because the patient’s psychiatrist probably wouldn’t have easy access to the records pertaining to cancer treatment. In such cases, it often falls to the patient to make sure every doctor is updated on everything he or she is being treated for — a daunting task for anyone, but especially someone enduring the rigors of cancer treatment and depression.
Meetings of the minds
“Tumor boards” are another valuable component of cancer care at Kaiser Permanente. These are meetings where doctors from different disciplines meet to review cancer cases and discuss the best potential treatment plans. This includes doctors with expertise in common cancers and those with deep knowledge about extremely rare types of cancer.
“Cancer care is getting more complex over time, and it’s good to have care teams where our patients are the top priority,” Alex Menter, MD, a Kaiser Permanente oncologist, noted in a 5280 article last year when he was named a Top Doctor.
Knowledge is power
Another way we get out in front of cancer is through cutting-edge research. The Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Research conducts, publishes, and disseminates epidemiologic, behavioral, and clinical research. Some of its cancer-focused work includes:
- A study to identify patients with hereditary cancer syndromes to improve early detection and survival rates
- A study demonstrating that bariatric surgery reduced cancer risk in severely obese women
- An investigation into breast cancer treatments and patient characteristics to better predict and manage the risk of a second occurrence
- A study identifying innovative interventions to improve lung cancer screening and reduce lung cancer mortality, particularly for underserved populations
Kaiser Permanente Colorado also provides access to national, collaborative trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and pharmaceutical companies to test the effectiveness of new treatments.
Kaiser Permanente doctors take a multifaceted approach to cancer care that starts with early detection. Then they combine their expertise and experience with state-of-the-art treatments and technology. And through access to groundbreaking trials and the latest cancer research, they deliver the best possible outcomes as they accompany their patients on every step of their journey.
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