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Western Michigan Cancer Center: A Cancer Center Innovator

TOP - February 2010 Vol 3, No 1 published on June 10, 2010

West Michigan Cancer Center (WMCC) has increased the quality of patient care while updating its business model for today's economic times. In recognition of this achievement, WMCC received a 2009 Cancer Center Innovator Award. The award was presented by Foley & Lardner at the third annual Cancer Center Business Summit in Dallas, Texas.

The Oncology Pharmacist recently spoke with Terry McKay, president and CEO, about how WMCC accomplished these goals as well as its plans for future improvements.

WMCC was chosen, in part, because of its aggressive stance on expense reduction and revenue enhancement, which is evident by its consolidation and affiliation efforts, according to Foley & Lardner. McKay explained how technology cut overall spending: "The single most important endeavor we pursued for efficiency and cost-effectiveness was to implement an electronic medical record [EMR]. We have had an EMR since 2004, and it has taken half a million dollars out of operating expenses each year. We saved in medical records, the charts themselves, the paper, the copying of the paper, and the filing of the paper. We saved in goods and services and personnel."

Benchmarks were also used to ensure that staff need and staff numbers aligned. Since 2000, WMCC has placed all of its employees, both clinical and nonclinical, on productivity benchmarks. "We use those benchmarks to monitor the employees' productivity, but also to determine if an additional employee is needed," McKay explained. "Managers no longer request additional staff unless they can substantiate the need through additional benchmarks, which is a pretty concrete number."

WMCC also tracks the American Society of Clinical Oncology's Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI) indicators for clinical quality. Each year, one or two indicators are tracked. To date, WMCC has tracked the QOPI guidelines in chemotherapy, clinical staging, and appropriate conversation and referral to hospice, according to McKay. In 2010, WMCC is tracking chemotherapy treatments in the last 14 days of life. "I think when you start to examine your processes and you can measure them and you compare them, you can always see room to improve," said McKay. "What we did was general awareness with physicians. Just by them knowing that we are tracking a guideline, it becomes more top of mind."

WMCC also tracks patient satisfaction through satisfaction surveys. Twice a year, staff meet to determine what they can change to make the patient experience better. As an example, in 2009, the center's goal was to see patients within 15 minutes, 65% of the time. This year, that goal has been increased to 70% of the time, according to McKay. "We track [satisfaction] very carefully. If any other issues are brought up in our satisfaction survey, we address those very quickly and head-on to make sure that we continuously strive for high patient satisfaction," McKay explained.

WMCC, a joint venture of Borgess Medical Center and Bronson Methodist Hospital, is its region's only truly comprehensive cancer treatment facility. In its main campus in Kalamazoo, WMCC offers medical oncology, radiation oncology, a neurooncology clinic, a breast cancer clinic, a thoracic clinic, laboratories, x-ray technology, positron-emission tomography/computed tomography, pharmaceutical services, social and psychological counseling, nutrition counseling, and key allied support services for patients and their families. WMCC also has six satellite locations where its medical oncologists treat patients.

The center employs a multidisciplinary approach with thoracic, breast, and neurooncology. Although not as large as the breast clinic, the thoracic and neurooncology teams are "aggressive and progressive." WMCC has recent ly expanded the multidisciplinary approach to gynecologic cancers, with a new team onboard. The center's current goals include adding additional clinics for palliative care and survivorship. This year, "we are going to start laying the groundwork for them," said McKay.

WMCC has always had the philosophy of treating the entire person, not just the disease. To this end, the center offers many services: social workers, psychologists, onsite pharmacy, dietitians/nutritionists, and personal coaches. It also offers Tai Chi, meditation, Pilates, yoga, and massage therapy. In addition, the center provides financial counseling, transportation assistance, and lodging.

WMCC's focus on its patients and their families has afforded it high standing in its community. “Our programs—the psychological counseling, the nutrition, the Tai Chi, the meditation, the Pilates, the yoga, everything we have—extend to the caregiver as well. We are very encompassing of what the family member is going through caring for the patient,” said McKay.

The old medical records room did not go to waste. WMCC has converted it into a fitness center. “The fitness center is open all day for patients and their caregivers, as well as our staff during specific hours. Patients are actively involved in living a healthier lifestyle even if it is for the first time in their life that they decided to exercise, because of the cancer diagnosis,” explained McKay. Many decide to continue after cancer. “We have a lot of patients who still use our facilities after cancer; we don't put a time limit on it,” McKay said. 

Nationally affiliated
WMCC receives timely results of National Cancer Institute (NCI) clinical trials of advanced cancer treatment drugs and techniques. For the right patient, participation in a trial of a new medication or procedure is available at the center or in his or her home. “We have a very robust clinical trial program funded by the NCI, and we put on about 112 to 115 patients a year,” said McKay. “That is a double-digit percentage of new patients who go on clinical trials, which is rather impressive.”

WMCC also works closely with regional physicians and healthcare professionals, and with cancer specialists throughout the United States. In addition, WMCC is professionally affiliated with the NCI, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and the American Cancer Society.

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Last modified: July 22, 2021