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Cancer hospital will emphasize patient-friendly approach

By Charles Kelly - Nov. 5, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
 
When a new for-profit cancer hospital opens in the Valley next year, it will offer patients intriguing new options for treatment.  Along with traditional therapy, the Cancer Treatment Centers hospital in Goodyear will offer a full range of alternative treatments, a less-stressful environment, patient empowerment, constant customer service and such perks as free plane tickets and limo service for traveling patients.

In essence, the hospital, run by Cancer Treatment Centers of America, will treat the patient not just the cancer. CTC can't guarantee that it will help cancer patients survive longer than any other hospital can. And it doesn't provide much in the way of cutting-edge cancer research.  Also, it isn't designated by the National Cancer Institute as a "comprehensive cancer center," as two Arizona operations do.

The Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson holds the designation on its own, and the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale has it as part of a three-hospital group that takes in facilities in Rochester, Minn., and Jacksonville, Fla.  But Cancer Centers' patient-friendly, upbeat approach is likely to resonate with patients who fear their treatment will involve doctors who are coldly clinical, test results that seem to take forever and therapy that forces them to hustle around confusing medical complexes while under the stress of the disease.

Those experiences don't happen at CTC hospitals, says former Holbrook Mayor Claudia Maestas, 58, whose small-cell lung cancer has gone into remission after treatment at one of the group's hospitals in Tulsa, Okla. "It's not about the dollars to them," she said. "It's about caring. It's the most amazing place." Indeed, the Tulsa hospital, whose design is mirrored in the under-construction Goodyear hospital, is more like a boutique hotel than a hospital.  It features skylights, dark-wood furnishings complementing attractive carpets and wall photos of soothing nature scenes.

Under one roof, it offers physicians, imaging technicians, nutritionists, rehab workers, a naturopathic expert, a pastoral-care director and mind-body advisers.  It's easy for all of them to consult with each other, and they constantly do, focusing on quick test results, creative treatment plans, active feedback from patients and effective therapies, members of the Tulsa staff say.

"A lot of patients who come here are looking for the type of care they just don't find elsewhere," said Dr. Mark Axness, the hospital's director of anesthesiology.  "We are just geared to provide so much more personal attention than these other institutions."  Excellent coordination of care, fast test results and alternative treatments are also offered under one roof at the Mayo Clinic and the Arizona Cancer Center, which is affiliated with the University of Arizona.

But CTC says that it takes personal attention to a new level, partly by having all the physicians and clinicians in a particular hospital meet three times a week to discuss each patient. Dedication to customer service at every level is what sets it apart from other hospitals, chain officials say.  Jesse Kanz, 40, a Phoenix resident treated at the Tulsa hospital for cancer of the esophagus after receiving treatment by physicians in the Valley, said his stress-related high blood pressure dropped as soon as he experienced the positive approach of the hospital.  CTC says its focus is on doing the best it can for each patient, not on research.

The hospital chain began 20 years ago as the brainchild of Chicago-based entrepreneur Richard Stephenson, who felt his mother's losing battle with cancer was made harsher by the unfeeling approach of physicians who cared for her.  Thus was born the key concept of a new business, what Health Executive magazine recently called "integrated care with a maniacal focus on the patient" and what CTC calls "the mother standard," the way someone would want his or her mother to be treated.  Patients like that - a lot. The chain has hospitals in suburban Chicago, Tulsa and Philadelphia, and a clinic in Seattle. After opening the Goodyear hospital next year, it plans a hospital in the Atlanta area.

Bain and Co., an international business-management consultant, said CTC shows up dramatically well compared with other hospitals in terms of its "net promoter score," the rating on whether a patient would recommend a facility to a friend or colleague.  CTC scores range from the high 80s to the low 90s on the scale of 100, compared with the average hospital, which is rated at about 55, Bain and Co. said.  However, the top Arizona cancer hospitals say they do very well on customer-satisfaction ratings, too. Mayo scores in the low 90s for its hematology, oncology and radiation-oncology departments. The Arizona Cancer Center consistently has achieved a 94 or above on customer-satisfaction ratings.  In addition to being a patient pleaser, the CTC business model has strengths in terms of treatment, said a researcher who led a government-funded study on specialty hospitals.  Leslie Greenwald, principal scientist at health-and-science consultancy RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said the experience in specific maladies gained by physicians at specialty hospitals can translate into better care.

Focusing on a healing environment and on gaining the trust of patients, which CTC does, can also be quite positive, said Eugene Schneller, a professor in the School of Health Management and Policy at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business.  "You want excellence in care, and you want excellence in how the patient sees the place," Schneller said.  Jennifer Andrews, a Lake Havasu City cancer survivor, said the healing environment of the CTC outside Chicago was very important.  Andrews, 47, was diagnosed with rectal cancer in February 2007. Because the malady had spread to her liver, local doctors gave her only six months to live.  Then, a relative saw a CTC commercial, and soon the hospital was flying Andrews and her husband, David, to Chicago so she could get treatment.  She found the doctors and the entire staff extremely compassionate, and she was immediately filled with hope.  "It's very encompassing," she said. "When you get there, you feel part of a group of people who care about you."  Her husband said that was true not only of the medical staff but also of everyone at the hospital.  On one occasion, he said, his wife was walking down a hallway, crying over her struggle to get better, when a maintenance man fixing an air-conditioner came over to comfort her, offering her his handkerchief.  CTC staffers treated her cancer with chemotherapy and radiation and strengthened her body and spirit through focused nutrition, massage therapy and mind-body exercises.
Radiation treatment killed her tumor, though Andrews said she still has some lesions in her liver. But she noted that she has survived for a year beyond the six months she was given to live.   Part of that she attributes to the positive attitude engendered by Cancer Centers.  "They don't talk to you about how long you have to live," she said. "Nobody knows how long you have to live. Only God knows that."

CTC is engaged in 10 clinical trials, including one to see whether prayer helps as a complementary treatment for breast cancer.  By comparison, the three hospitals that make up the Mayo comprehensive cancer center are involved in 800 clinical trials for cancer treatments. The Arizona Cancer Center is involved in 233.

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Last Updated: 11/26/2008


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