By Amanda Sangster - March 29, 2021
Time is critical when a patient receives a cancer diagnosis. The time between diagnosis and a patient’s first visit with an oncologist can be frightening and emotionally taxing for the patient and their family. Consumed with doubt, worry and anxiety, patients start their cancer journey experiencing a cascade of emotions.
For Moffitt Cancer Center patient Heather Hay, waiting to see a health care provider after receiving a cancer diagnosis felt like an eternity filled with anxiety of the unknown. “The hardest part of being diagnosed with cancer is the unknown,” said Hay. “The time waiting for my appointment was by far the hardest part of my entire trajectory with cancer.”
In what could be the most frightening time of a patient’s life, Moffitt understands that demonstrating urgency and compassion can alleviate some of the emotional burden felt by a patient and their family. At Moffitt, personalized cancer care now starts before a patient ever walks through the doors.
"This approach fundamentally changes how we engage with our patients – it’s not a common practice offered by other cancer centers"- Dr. Jason B. Fleming, chair of Gastrointestinal Oncology Department
Within one business day of contacting Moffitt for an appointment, patients can now speak directly to a cancer expert from their care team. This newly implemented service aims at easing the stress and uncertainty that a patient may feel in between the time of booking their first appointment and the actual visit. This type of consultation is not something that is routinely done at other cancer centers, placing Moffitt ahead of the curve in its approach to patient centered care.
“Some of that anxiety and nerve-wracking feeling is gone after just having talked with someone,” said Hay.
The goal of this initial contact is to connect the new patient with an expert who understands their specific disease and establish trust between them. It takes the interaction from being something transactional to a real human connection, creating not only a clinical bond but an emotional one as well.
The innovative idea was born organically within the gastrointestinal and genitourinary clinics. Health care providers began calling their new patients ahead of their first appointments. What they noticed following the calls were a sense of calm and relief from their patients as they addressed their fears and concerns.
As a result, patients and providers were better prepared for the onsite appointments, having discussed expectations, procedures and health history. Those new patients were also more likely to keep their appointments instead of seeking treatment from another center.
Dr. Jason B. Fleming, chair of Gastrointestinal Oncology Department, says standardizing rapid direct connection for all patients is a first-in-kind effort for cancer care.
“This approach fundamentally changes how we engage with our patients – it’s not a common practice offered by other cancer centers,” said Fleming. “We are redefining how patients begin their cancer treatment and establishing a level of trust that the patient will feel throughout their entire cancer journey. Providing personalized care before a patient ever steps foot in the hospital shows that we’re committed to our patients during a time when they’re most fearful and anxious.”
Since launching in the gastrointestinal and genitourinary clinics, this new service has spread within every clinic at Moffitt, becoming the new standard of care. During the expert-led phone call, the clinician introduces themself to the patient, answers clinical questions, provides guidance, listens and takes notes about the patient’s history, talks about the services that Moffitt offers and discusses the next steps in the patient’s journey.
The service has changed the workflow for clinicians and providers at Moffitt who had typically performed this outreach a few days prior to the patient’s first onsite appointment. By moving this call up in the timeline of the patient’s journey, clinicians can connect with the patient and make their first appointment as productive as possible.
In contacting her patients, Themika Lewis, a registered nurse from Moffitt’s Malignant Hematology Clinic, found that this first phone call better prepared her patients in meaningful yet simple ways.
“A lot of the questions are related to where the clinic was located and expectations about that first visit,” said Lewis. “They wanted to know, ‘Will I start treatment this day?’ or ‘I don’t know exactly what I have – what should I expect?’’’
Lewis immediately realized how this first discussion with her patient left a calming effect on them. “After I’ve talked to them and heard their concerns, they’ll always ask if I’ll be there at their first visit,” said Lewis. “I can tell how reassuring it is to them when I say, ‘Yes, you will see my face on the first day.’”
The new service is designed to help patients through a difficult time and to ensure a smooth start to their cancer journey at Moffitt. By pioneering this new approach at Moffitt, the cancer center is demonstrating a commitment to providing compassionate, world-class care.
“Time is the most valuable thing we can give to our patients,” said Fleming. “In some cases, the uncertainty of a diagnosis and the stress from it can become too much for a patient. By speaking with them right after they book an appointment, we’re keeping Moffitt at the forefront of offering the best and latest treatment options and, most importantly, showing our patients that we’re committed to them, emotionally and clinically, from the very start.”