Smilow Cancer Hospital has opened a multidisciplinary head and neck cancer clinic, the first of its kind in Fairfield County, at Yale New Haven Health’s Park Avenue Medical Center in Trumbull.
The clinic coordinates and streamlines care for the convenience of patients, according to Dr. Heather Osborn. A Yale Medicine head and neck surgeon, Osborn is teaming with radiation oncologist Dr. Kirtesh Patel and medical oncologist Dr. Harold Tara to create a personalized treatment plan for each patient.
“Over the past several years, we’ve seen a considerable amount of evidence that patients receiving a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach to their treatment can have better outcomes,” Osborn said.
According to a December 2017 article on ScienceDirect, a website that provides access to scientific and medical research, the possible benefits of such an approach in high-risk or major cancer surgery include more timely diagnosis and treatment decisions, as well as more effective communication among all team members.
And according to a 2016 article on the same site, “Given the complexities of multimodality treatment for patients with head and neck cancer, the rationale for the use of multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) to define individual optimal treatment strategies on a per-patient basis is apparent. Increased use of guideline-directed approaches, reduced time to treatment and improved outcomes, which result from use of an MDT approach in head and neck cancer, have been documented.”
“For a cancer patient, being able to see everyone in one day can really make a difference,” Osborn, who joined the Smilow team last June, said. “Otherwise they might see me one day, the radiation oncologist the following week, and the medical oncologist a few days after that. That adds up to a couple of weeks and with cancer treatment, you don’t want to waste any time if you can avoid it.”
By collaborating with each other during and after a given appointment — Osborn said such meetings, which can include blood tests and various other screenings, average 90 minutes — additional delays can be avoided as well.
The physicians and patients usually conclude by discussing and agreeing upon a treatment plan. In addition to the three doctors, the appointment can also include consultations and recommendations from physical and speech therapists, nutritionists, a nurse navigator and social workers.
Having previously been a resident physician at the University of Toronto and a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School, Osborn said she’d only met her colleagues Patel and Tara as they were setting up the 2,000-square-foot clinic, which officially opened April 2. “But we’ve gotten to know each other well,” she said. “We all have a tremendous amount of respect for each other.”
She noted that appointments will initially be scheduled for Tuesday afternoons — “our goal is to see about six patients in an afternoon” — before the schedule is expanded as demand requires.
“Providing this is a major advance for this area,” Osborn said. “We will be able to see more patients in Fairfield County in a more efficient manner, which should make for better oncological outcomes.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve created and achieved,” she added, “and I think our patients will be as excited as we are.”