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Gateways to Care

Conquest - Summer 2009

By Julie Penne

When one door closes, another one opens.

While this adage often is used to express life's everyday ups and downs, it's especially applicable for those who are faced with a diagnosis of cancer and choose to come to M. D. Anderson for confirmation of their diagnosis, a second opinion or treatment.

In addition to the extensive number of disease-specific care centers as entry points to
M. D. Anderson, there is an expanding range of specialized diagnostic and assessment clinics now available that can provide additional gateways to appropriate and prompt care. They are clinics and services that review existing pathology and films, order additional diagnostics, do physical assessments and then steer patients to the right place for care or monitoring, a vital step when cancer is first suspected or confirmed.

These additional gateways include:

“We see a change in diagnosis in 5% to 15% of the cases that come to
M. D. Anderson for a second opinion or a confirmation or restaging of their diagnosis,” says Thomas Burke, M.D., executive vice president and physician-in-chief. “These clinics, which are primarily diagnostic, do great work using leading technology, developing a plan and sending patients in the right direction for followup. As we look to improve effectiveness and efficiency in health care nationally and certainly at M. D. Anderson, these various access points are especially helpful to patients and give them what they want and need: a clear-cut plan for action.”

Burke adds that many of the diagnostic clinics — especially the Undiagnosed Breast Clinic, the Children’s Cancer Hospital’s Suspicion of Cancer Program and other programs such as the Suspicion of Cancer Clinic for adults and the Thyroid Nodule Clinic — see patients at the earliest stage of disease and can have a significant impact on their outcomes.

“There’s nothing better than a care team telling patients that they don’t have cancer and then sending them back home,” Burke says. “When the team has to tell patients that their diagnosis is confirmed or staged more precisely, they can get them quick access to the most appropriate care that is so vital, no matter how early or advanced, rare or common the cancer.”

Medical criteria eliminated, capacity expanded

The many and diverse entry points for M. D. Anderson have opened new resources for patients who want to come for care but who may have encountered obstacles in the past.

In April, M. D. Anderson opened its doors even wider to patients when it eliminated medical acceptance criteria and worked to expand capacity in clinics. About six weeks after the launch of the initiative, the wait time for new patient appointments was cut in half, from an average of 15 working days to an average of 7.5 days. Financial clearance also has become more efficient, contributing to patients getting in the door faster for appointments. Burke says that some clinics have been able to offer patients an appointment the day that they call.

“It’s very reassuring for patients to hear that they can have an appointment at
M. D. Anderson within a week, if not sooner,” says Gerard Colman, senior vice president and chief of clinical operations.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center