Cancer is not merely a medical condition that wreaks havoc on an organ, a tissue or a cell. It is an ordeal that goes beyond pain, discomfort and inconvenience.

There are costs involved - from getting diagnosed to being treated. Even with medical insurance, there is almost always an out-of-pocket expense involved. And sometimes, these can amount to more than what insurance covers.

But more than physical manifestations and financial costs, cancer takes a toll on a patient and his family because of the tedious process to confirm diagnosis and undergo treatment or management of the disease.

Tedious process

The journey of a cancer patient in the Philippines includes going back and forth to hospitals and medical specialists for consultations, laboratory and diagnostic exams. Unless confined immediately before or after diagnosis due to another medical complaint, more time and resources will have to be spent before actual treatment and healing starts.

Dr. Wilfredo Liangco, an oncologist, noted the propensity for cancer treatment to be disjointed given the many medical specialists seeing to the care of a patient. “There is a tendency for some of the data to get lost in translation, some time to be lost, and for things to be inefficient in general.”

Medical oncologist Dr Dennis Sacdalan of ManilaMed (formerly Medical Center Manila) knows too well what cancer patients go through. And while he could do little to ease the burden of his patients outside of treating them, their experiences served as an inspiration to think of ways to serve them better.

Multidisciplinary setting

Thus was born the Cancer Care Center, which while not the first or only facility in the country, has something innovative to offer patients.

The multi-disciplinary team (MDT) approach is certainly not new. But ManilaMed is the first to use the concept where helping cancer patients is concerned.

“We bring people from different disciplines, different specialties together in one setting, they’re there to discuss a patient’s case so that all aspects of the treatment is covered,” Dr. Sacdalan said.

He cited the U.K. Department of Health’s definition of MDT to further elucidate on the concept: “It is a group of people of different healthcare disciplines, which meet together at a given time for the purpose of discussing a given patient and are each able to contribute individually for the diagnostic and treatment decisions of the patient.”

The team shall not be composed of doctors alone but nurses, pharmacists, social workers and even pastoral services, all aimed at providing holistic care for every patient.

As the Cancer Care Center is envisioned as a one-stop-shop for cancer patients it has available the latest state-of-the art technology in radiation therapy. The equipment - LINAC or Linear Accelerator - can zero in on a tumour and minimize damage to healthy tissues surrounding the affected area.

There are only three such machines in the country, and ManilaMed has one of the two in Metro Manila. As important as technology is in cancer management, the target outcome is not only to remove tumours but eventually, to improve a patient’s quality of life.

State-of-the-art technology that targets tumours precisely to the millimeter
State-of-the-art technology that targets tumours precisely to the millimeter

Patient-centric care

Ultimately, the Cancer Care Center hopes to distinguish itself by putting the patient at the centre in managing the disease.

It is not only about having all concerned medical specialists working as a team to oversee a case, but it is enabling the patient and his family to be part of the process. The centre has a conference room where the patient can discuss with the medical team about his treatment plan and be clarified about options and procedures.

And since cancer management will take on a holistic approach, the psychosocial and spiritual wellbeing of patients will also be given attention. The less a patient has to worry about, the more focus can be given to healing.

Dr Sacdalan said studies have shown that using the MDT approach has been favourable and beneficial not just for the patient but even to medical professionals.

Benefits of MDT approach

It has been noted that managing diseases through a multidisciplinary setting increased survival, and shortened the time from diagnosis to treatment. Moreover, there was a greater likelihood that patients received care according to clinical practice guidelines, including psychosocial support. Further, it increased a patient’s access to information, and improved satisfaction with treatment and care.

On the other hand, medical professionals also greatly benefit from the MDT approach. Not only does it result to improved patient care and outcomes, it streamlined treatment pathways and reduced the duplication of services.

Dr Sacdalan rued that in the conventional approach to managing cancer, there was a lot of duplication in laboratory exams requested as well as redundancies in management.

An Improved coordination in the care of patients would reflect on the medical professionals.

On the professional aspect, the MDT approach provided educational opportunities for members of the MD team, by learning from each other while at the same time improving their mental wellbeing and reducing the risk of of burnout by eliminating stress due to coordination lapses that often result in poor care.

And more important, according to Dr Sacdalan, with the MDT approach there is “not only shared responsibility but also shared accountability. The burden of taking care of a sick patient diagnosed with cancer does not rest on just one professional.” MIMS

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