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Doctor, Doctor: Focus on emergency medicine

Network - Spring 2014

Knox Todd, M.D.


We asked Knox Todd, M.D., professor and chair of Emergency Medicine, to tell us how his department helps MD Anderson patients. Todd’s research interests include the intersection of emergency medicine and palliative care.

What do physicians in the Emergency Center do?

Emergency physicians in our department staff the Emergency Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We expect to treat 23,000 patients this year, and our patient volume grows every year.

Though we see the occasional family member or employee in need of emergency care, more than 90% of our patients are undergoing active treatment at MD Anderson.  

Patients come to us for the diagnosis and management of symptoms related to cancer or its treatment. These include pain, shortness of breath, nausea, infection or bleeding. While MD Anderson has a large number of physicians and centers specializing in specific types of cancer, emergency physicians see cancer in all its forms. In fact, one-half of all patients hospitalized here are admitted through the Emergency Center.

Why is emergency medicine so important to MD Anderson patients?

Emergency medicine has been a distinct medical specialty in the United States for more than 40 years. Most departments were established because patients required sophisticated, time-sensitive diagnosis and treatment services that were simply not feasible to provide through subspecialty services or facilities.

How has your department grown?

We began in 2010 with a dozen faculty and staff. We now have more than 50 clinical and research staff.

All large academic health centers offer specialized emergency medicine care and training. But MD Anderson is the first comprehensive cancer center with an academic department of emergency medicine.

How are emergency medicine and palliative care related?

Daily experience in our nation’s emergency departments suggests that those complex life-limiting illnesses are often caught in a revolving door of care that may fail to address individual patient goals. Too often, those with terminal illnesses are treated for the most immediate problem without being offered comprehensive supportive care to ease distressing symptoms, improve coordination of services and provide caregiver relief.  

Increasing numbers of emergency physicians are receiving specialized training in hospice and palliative medicine. Our staff has particular expertise in recognizing the need for palliative care, hospice and caregiver support services in those with advanced cancer. Working with our palliative care colleagues and local hospice facilities, we try to provide the highest quality of care for our patients.

Why did you come to MD Anderson?

Like most MD Anderson faculty members, I was attracted by the excellent faculty and superb facilities.

Also, I came here because of the large numbers of cancer patients who seek our treatment. There is simply no emergency department in the world with the wealth of experience our patients bring us. It’s a tremendous privilege to work here.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center