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Dana-Farber/St. Anne's Collaboration is Part of Growing Trend in Cancer Care

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, September 1, 2009

Coming soon to Saint Anne's Hospital in Fall River: Oncology care branded with the diagnostic expertise, clinical trial variety, and options for chemotherapy—all from prestigious Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, which is 51 miles away.

"You've seen the signs that say, 'Starbucks Coffee Served Here?' Well, this is Saint Anne's saying 'Dana-Farber served here,'" says Marc Bard, MD, a healthcare consultant familiar with the arrangement.

"Each party says it's a win-win," Bard says. "Fall River will get more infusion and radiation patients, and Dana-Farber will get to do more initial diagnosis and staging by being out in the community."

Lawrence Shulman, MD, Dana-Farber's chief medical officer and senior vice president for medical affairs, agrees. He says the memo of understanding announced last week is "a win-win for both parties for many reasons, especially this one.

"Cancer medicine is moving along very, very quickly, with new technologies and treatments coming down the pike literally every day. And it's increasingly difficult for hospitals like Saint Anne's to stay current without having a connection to an academic medical center. They were looking to partner."

Dana-Farber will employ all physicians and managers, while Saint Anne's, a 160-bed hospital owned by Caritas Christi Health Care, will hire nurses and other personnel. Patients will come from Fall River and surrounding towns in southeastern Massachusetts.

Details on the number of personnel who will wear white coats carrying Dana-Farber's name is still being worked out, Shulman says. But he insists that the only way the collaboration can succeed is if it truly is Dana-Farber's level of cancer care provided in Fall River. And that includes the institute's survivorship and genetics programs, its social work and nutrition services, and its state-of-the-art electronic medical record system.

With their announcements, the two Massachusetts hospitals are helping to propel a trend seen increasingly around the country in service lines from orthopedic surgery to cardiology. Big names like Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, MD Anderson in Houston, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and Cleveland Clinic are all reaching out to share their excellence and attract patients at the same time.

"All of the Boston teaching hospitals are trying to get out into the communities where there are huge healthcare needs," says Teresa Prego, spokeswoman for the Boston based Caritas Christi.

They will get more of that opportunity at St. Anne's. The Fall River facility cares for more than 6,000 patients annually at its Hudner Oncology Center and at a new oncology center in Dartmouth.

Sister Vimala Vadakumpadan, chair of Saint Anne's Board of Trustees, said the arrangement allows patients to be treated more conveniently, much closer to their homes.

However, those familiar with such joint endeavors say they only work when the institution with the expertise actually provides the care and personnel. It doesn't work when providers are given some training, some signs and T-shirts, and a marketing campaign.

The Fall River collaboration is actually Dana-Farber's fifth effort to provide cancer care outside the walls of its primary building, Shulman says. Dana-Farber now offers its cancer program to patients at Faulkner Hospital in Boston, a clinic in Londonderry, NH, and the Milford Regional Medical Center, which is 45 minutes southwest of Boston. In October, it will offer its fifth clinic—at South Shore Hospital in South Weymouth.

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