By Anu Hosangadi
We talked previously about the importance of multidisciplinary teams in cancer care. Now we’ll explain what these teams do and how you can find them.
Cancer care is changing. As patients often undergo several different types of treatments — from surgery and radiation to chemotherapy and targeted oral drugs— the treatment plans are becoming more complex. The focus of treatment is shifting from purely disease management to a more patient-centered approach. This means giving greater attention to psychosocial and quality of life issues, patient empowerment, and survivorship.
What Is a Multidisciplinary Team?
To address these issues, larger medical centers and academic medical institutions are increasingly providing care by multidisciplinary teams. The members of such teams come from different specialties or disciplines and include surgeons, radiation and medical oncologists, experts in diagnostic imaging, and pathologists. Other important members of the multidisciplinary team are nurses, nurse navigators, genetic counselors, physical therapists, hospital pharmacists, and social workers.
What Do Multidisciplinary Teams Do?
Members of multidisciplinary teams often meet as a group to discuss each patient and consider all the different aspects of treatment and services. By working as a team, the different professionals are able to better coordinate care and communicate more clearly with patients and families. Patients who attend multidisciplinary clinics may be seen by several team members the same day, sometimes together. This can be helpful for patients, since they don’t have to make multiple trips to the treatment center. Many cancer experts believe this integrated team approach is the best way to manage cancer and improve patient outcomes.
What If I Can’t Go to a Large Treatment Center?
Not every patient can go to a large medical center or academic hospital. In fact, the vast majority of cancer patients seek treatment at community centers. Community centers also have multidisciplinary teams, although their approach may be different. They still meet and discuss cases together, but they may meet less frequently than teams at academic centers. And they often discuss several cancer types instead of focusing on only one kind of cancer.
Collaboration and Communication Are Essential
Collaboration between community centers and larger academic institutions is essential. Team members refer patients to other teams for consultation or to help patients participate in clinical trials. Communication is key to integrating care among different centers, and telemedicine is helping to make it possible. In addition to emails and faxes, cancer care teams are increasingly using virtual meetings and webcasts to discuss cases and coordinate care. Several groups have published reports on the success of their multidisciplinary teams in improving patient satisfaction and care.
One group’s hospital-based multidisciplinary cancer clinic provides coordinated and comprehensive treatment planning in a single visit. Patients meet one-on-one with each specialist and leave the clinic with an individualized treatment plan. Both patients and physicians gave the multidisciplinary clinic high marks.
Another group reported that their 15-year experience with a multidisciplinary clinic resulted in better survival outcomes, especially among patients with high-risk, locally advanced disease.
How Do I Find a Multidisciplinary Cancer Team?
Liver Cancer Connect maintains an online directory of liver cancer centers across the United States. Many of the centers listed have multidisciplinary teams for managing liver cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) lists NCI-designated cancer centers, which have multidisciplinary teams for cancer care and support services.
And be sure to visit Liver Cancer Connect’s website for information on questions to ask your healthcare team, so you can stay involved in the decision making.
Because the most important member of a multidisciplinary team is you, the patient.