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  • A Message from Timothy J. Babineau, MD, President and CEO

  • Timothy Babineau, MD

    A few weeks ago, I wrote to you about Lifespan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center Roadmap, a 2-3-year action plan that deepens our capabilities, broadens our research, links us to a leading cancer research institute (DFCI), ensures the same level of cancer care at all our facilities, and supports patients and their families in every way possible. With this column I would like to expand on this important topic and update you on some of our planned investments in programs and staff and some of the specific activities that will help us reach our roadmap destination of offering the highest quality cancer care in the state. (While the focus of our roadmap is primarily adults with cancer, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge our spectacular Hasbro Children’s Hospital Pediatric Oncology program which provides world class cancer care for our pediatric community. More on that topic in the future.)

    Deepening our Cancer Expertise- As an academic cancer center, Lifespan has tremendous expertise in the areas of medical, surgical, radiation, and interventional oncology, as well as in many of our clinical departments and services. Many of our faculty are known nationally and internationally for cancer research. Working in partnership with our medical foundations, we will be recruiting physicians to deepen this expertise in medical care and research and to assure timely access for our patients. On March 1st, a new malignant hematologist and quality of care specialist joined our team. In the coming months we will be hiring additional specialists in the types of cancer we see most often: lung, gastrointestinal, breast, and gynecologic oncology, as well as thoracic surgeons with expertise in thoracic cancers, among others. In July, two physicians will join our staff: a GI and a thoracic medical oncologist. We are also attentive to bringing this expertise close to where people live through our four cancer center locations across Rhode Island. Our East Greenwich location will have more medical oncologists seeing patients. Additional surgeons adept at the surgical treatment of cancer have recently been recruited to Newport Hospital. To improve access to our physicians and better support our cancer inpatients, we will be expanding our oncology hospitalist program, which has been very successful at Rhode Island Hospital, to the Miriam Hospital; and in September, a medical oncologist will begin seeing patients at Newport Hospital.

    Improving the Patient Experience- Given the stress of a cancer diagnosis, we want to make the experience of care for our patients and their referring physicians as positive and responsive as we can. We have formed teams to streamline registration and other processes (so that patients with newly diagnosed cancer will be seen quickly), and we will soon have an improved system for triaging calls from patients so they are able to quickly speak to the most appropriate team member. We have successfully completed the installation of our Epic Beacon Oncology Electronic Medical Record (EMR), which offers a tremendous advantage to our physicians and care teams as we work to ensure a consistent level of evidence-based care for all our patients. Dedicated IT staff and a medical oncologist physician champion are now supporting this effort on an ongoing basis.

    Cancer Center Administration at Rhode Island Hospital will now oversee the infusion center and radiation therapy to promote integrated care for our patients. We will also be expanding our hours of operation for our infusion centers at The Miriam Hospital, East Greenwich, and Rhode Island Hospital. This expansion plan will be tied to a new program for an Oncology Medical Home to better manage the care and symptoms of our cancer patients and reduce the need to use the emergency department. To support this expansion additional staff will be hired in genetics, psychosocial care and palliative care, and a survivorship program will be launched. 

    Research – Cancer research is moving at a very fast pace and we want to ensure that our patients have access to the latest and most appropriate clinical trials, including new targeted treatments made possible by the sequencing of the genome and the growing area of immunotherapy. We are contributing to cancer discoveries through our Lifespan basic and translational research programs and our partnership with Brown University. As one example, in our proteomics program, a patient’s genes are mapped to identify the mutations that caused the cancer so treatments can be developed to target those mutations. Our patients benefit from these research programs and from the investigator-initiated clinical trials offered jointly by Lifespan and the Brown University Oncology Group (BRUOG); and in fact, some of these clinical trials are offered nowhere else in New England. 

    Cancer Partnerships- Research to develop these more targeted treatments requires patients with very specific characteristics or mutations matched to a target and thus requires access to a large population base with tissue specimens, and electronic medical record and molecular characterization data that can be shared (with appropriate protections) across organizations. In cancer, strategic partnerships are essential if we are to best meet the needs of our patients and accelerate research. Our recent announcement of a unique, exclusive partnership with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute will draw upon each organization’s strengths to advance cancer care, with our common Epic Beacon Oncology EMR serving as a significant accelerator. The leadership of both organizations is committed to forming a new type of cancer partnership that can be a leading model in the country. In the months ahead, we will be working together with Dana-Farber to design the model and its priorities and activities. While the details are yet to be fully defined, we know that this partnership will benefit our patients in at least two ways: by enhancing the care we provide locally and enabling seamless integration of care for the rare and complex cancers in which Dana-Farber has particular expertise; and by giving our patients access to a broader array of clinical trials. With our research program and this new Dana-Farber relationship, we are taking an enormous step forward with the potential to benefit patients in Rhode Island and beyond.

    The Work of Many - If you have been at Lifespan for any length of time, you have heard me say that medicine is a team sport. While it is true for our entire system, it is particularly true for the care we provide to our patients with cancer. Delivering world class cancer care requires a highly skilled, highly cooperative, highly motivated team that helps each patient travel from diagnosis to survivorship – medical, surgical, radiation, and interventional radiology oncologists; and many other medical and surgical specialists. This care is supported by oncology hospitalists, oncology nurses, clinical trial nurses, nurse navigators, patient coordinators, research nurses and associates, social workers, nutritionists, palliative care and spiritual care professionals as well as registration staff, financial counselors, survivorship coaches, and many more. We are thankful to have such teams in place right here at Lifespan.

    But with such a large team and such high stakes, it is no small feat to work seamlessly, to coordinate perfectly, to communicate consistently and fully, so that each patient receives the care needed, exactly when it is needed, by the right individual, every day. The roadmap we recently launched is a significant achievement — but it is a roadmap, a plan. What makes me confident about the future are the more than 75 people who have helped create the roadmap, their willingness to take apart our cancer program piece by piece in order to build something better, and their efforts to construct strong channels of communication across disciplines. This level of engagement represents a new way of working together and many will continue to be involved on a new Cancer Center Operations Council that will begin meeting in March to oversee the implementation of the roadmap. 

    Being a part of this effort has been inspiring for me and I thank all involved, as well as all those whose lives are devoted to helping patients with cancer. I am excited by the prospect of where we will be in a few short years. And I am just as excited to tell you that our journey is already off to an excellent start.

    In the steadfast pursuit of excellence, I remain,

    Sincerely yours,

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    Timothy J. Babineau, MD

    President, CEO of Lifespan