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
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
Last Updated: 11/26/2008