Dr. Douglas Reding had a singular focus. “My mission was to ensure that the way we practice medicine and deliver cancer care in rural Wisconsin looked much the same as the excellent care we deliver cancer patients in Milwaukee and other urban areas.”

Last year, when faced with high turnover in provider care at the James Beck Cancer Center at Ascension Saint Mary’s Hospital in rural Rhinelander, Wisconsin, Dr. Reding gathered the cancer team, including oncologic otolaryngologist Dr. Shishir Sheth, nurses and clinicians. They instituted immediate changes with remarkable results within 60 days and established procedures for ongoing improvements.

“Everyone saw the commitment of leadership, which inspired other providers and clinicians to join in. Everyone contributed their best ideas collaboratively because we all knew what to do, we just needed to build a better platform.”

Dr. Sheth notes, “In rural areas, we see a lot of cancers of the head and neck area,” Dr. Sheth explained. “These cases are some of the most complicated. They can inhibit normal life functions: eating, drinking, swallowing, hearing. So the addition of a nurse navigator, proactive weekly tumor conferences, and the focus of the interdisciplinary team to gain care delivery efficiencies on behalf of our cancer patients has been remarkable.”

Dr. Sheth continued, “Often, my cancer patients need special therapies to learn techniques for swallowing, or for specialized dental care, and together we’ve now employed new methods to ensure continuous improvement in compassionate care for our patients through their cancer journey.”

According to Kim Hetland, director of James Beck Cancer Center at Ascension Saint Mary’s Hospital, that initiative resulted in an immediate decrease of five percent in the migration of cancer patients out of that cancer center, and patient satisfaction scores soared to their highest levels. She attributes the significant and rapid changes to the work of the multidisciplinary oncology team and to collaboration with other ministries within Ascension Wisconsin. In addition, the James Beck Cancer Center team instituted the following changes:

  • The addition of a medical oncologist and nurse navigator
  • Weekly interdisciplinary team tumor boards shifted their focus to prospective discussions of patients in treatment rather than case history discussions
  • By eliminating unwarranted variation and standardizing best practices, the cancer teams more efficiently address patient issues and tap into more Ascension cancer resources throughout Wisconsin. An example is the upcoming launch of a telemedicine program so that genetic counseling in Milwaukee will be expanded and easily accessible to patients in Rhinelander and other rural areas of northern Wisconsin.
  • Successful launch of the Low Dose Lung CT Screening program

Ascension Healthcare President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Patricia A. Maryland adds, “The shorter-term goal is to have cancer delivery teams interact and collaborate throughout. That initiative is happening quickly in Wisconsin and in all the states where Ascension serves its communities. However, the longer-term vision is to standardize those best practices across Ascension’s national footprint so that soon patients can continue to receive ongoing, uninterrupted, state-of-the- art cancer care at any Ascension cancer center in the United States.”