The shock of getting a breast-cancer diagnosis can be hard to absorb, and a team of doctors at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center is reducing the trauma by streamlining medical visits.
In November, a newly formed multidisciplinary breast care team began seeing patients during two monthly clinics. Instead of asking women to come for numerous appointments to learn about the possible surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and breast reconstruction procedures, they could now see a group of doctors during one appointment.
The woman and her family convene in an exam room and the doctors rotate in to see them every half-hour. For those who are employed, this means missing just one day of work, and by grouping the surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist into one visit, patients only need to make one co-payment and find a parking space once.
The innovative approach is the result of a focus group conducted last year at Kaiser to learn from former breast-cancer patients what worked well and what could be improved from the time of diagnosis through treatment.
Kaiser surgeon Loie Sauer was initially worried that patients might find the lengthy appointment an overload of too much information, but feedback from women who have participated in the clinic show they appreciate the cohesive, complete treatment plan they receive.
Pearl Sorensen of Penngrove says she was pleased with the process. Her husband, Nels, and adult daughter, Kristen, came to the appointment and when they were done seeing doctors had a clear picture of what to expect.
Prior to the session, Sorenson had spoken with Kaiser's breast-care coordinator and nurse Rose Cook, who gave an overview of how the clinic would function.
"From the time of the biopsy until surgery was a few weeks at most," said Sorensen, who had surgery in May. "The breast team really works like clockwork."
Sorensen acknowledged it was a lot of new information to digest, but said it relieved her anxiety to get the full picture. Her daughter, who is a teacher, took time off from school for the clinic appointment, and she assisted by taking copious notes as the various doctors discussed the plan.
"It was better to get a plan. It would've taken a month to see different doctors," she said. "It's comforting and allows you to concentrate on healing. It's important to me that the group of doctors and nurses work as a team."
Medical oncologist Christine Kaiser explained she would typically meet a woman following surgery to talk about what comes next in her treatment.
"Her anxiety would be going up and up. It's really nice for her to meet all of the doctors up front so she can ask questions," Kaiser said.
Cook explained that the multidisciplinary clinic is one option for women receiving a breast-cancer diagnosis; some might prefer to meet with doctors during separate office visits or might want the soonest available appointment and not want to wait until the next scheduled clinic date.
So far this year, 110 Kaiser Santa Rosa patients have been diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2009, there were 201 new cases and last year there were 150.
Kaiser's breast-care program recently was awarded a three-year accreditation through the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers<NO1><NO>; this rigorous, detailed review of the program included a reference to the multidisciplinary clinic, which begins with doctors meeting together to discuss treatment plans for newly diagnosed patients.