The Ochsner Cancer Institute in New Orleans is exploring the viability of a novel, virtual consultation system that will allow its mesothelioma specialists to make recommendations to physicians who need assistance in caring for, and advising, their patients.
Specialists at Ochsner would be able to view patient images and records from facilities across the nation right from their center in Louisiana. The records would be transmitted over a secure website that would meet compliance with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
The virtual consultation system, which likely will begin with an emphasis on pancreatic disease, would require Ochsner and participating facilities to have the same software.
Ochsner, the premier multidisciplinary cancer center in the Gulf South Region, hopes to use the system for a number of diseases, including mesothelioma, which is diagnosed in an estimated 3,000 people annually in the United States.
“Patients are scattered all over the place. Getting to a specialty center can be difficult,” said Ochsner surgical oncologist Charles Conway, M.D., who specializes in abdominal cancers, including peritoneal mesothelioma. “This would make things easier for both patients and physicians who aren’t sure what to do. For a rare tumor like this, it’s a pretty cool concept.”
“It would be a better way to communicate with other physicians,” Conway said. “It just needs to be easy because it won’t happen unless it’s really easy for the physicians to do. And that means the nurses need to be involved.”
There are medical centers already using versions of a shared virtual consultation system, but Ochsner could become the first to use it for peritoneal and pleural mesothelioma and make it a standard of care.
The Ochsner Health System has been a national leader in cancer care for decades, treating a comprehensive range of cancers that cover an estimated 3,200 patients annually at the state-of-the-art Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center.
Ochsner has moved toward becoming a mesothelioma specialty center since the arrival of Rodney Landreneau, M.D., director of the Cancer Institute and vice-chairman of the Department of Surgery in 2013. He is hoping to attract patients all throughout the Gulf South Region.
Landreneau, who spent more than 20 years working with mesothelioma patients at the acclaimed University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, became the first surgeon in Louisiana to do a surgical debulking procedure with hyperthermic chemotherapy for mesothelioma. Conway last year performed Louisiana’s first totally robotic pancreaticoduodenectomy, a major surgery for pancreatic cancer.
The virtual consultation system is designed to encourage physicians to offer patients a hassle-free way of getting a second opinion. Most physicians, even many oncologists, rarely see cases of mesothelioma and offer patients little hope for this cancer with no definitive cure.
“Many are afraid to do anything because they believe it’s a terminal disease, and they don’t want to give their patient what they think is false hope,” Conway said. “This is a way to get over that hurdle, and get patients into a system that can evaluate them a little better.”
It also would avoid having a patient travel long distance to see a specialist without first knowing there was a chance they could be helped.
“You could look at the labs, look at the story, then say yes, this guy warrants a closer evaluation for possible cytoreduction that could help him,” Conway said. “But some patients, you can look and see it’s just not going to happen. This is just a way to simplify the process.”