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Virtual Multidisciplinary Conference Expands Patient Access to Specialists

August 16, 2019
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This final post in a seven-blog series highlighting the achievements of the 2019 ACCC Innovator Award Winners describes how and why Ascension Health SE Wisconsin Hospitals piloted a virtual electronic multidisciplinary conference model. 

When oncology patients present with complex problems, their treatment often requires a multi-specialty team approach. In cancer care, those teams come together in multidisciplinary conferences (MDCs). But the constraints imposed by time and location can create logistical and geographical barriers to MDC scheduling and attendance.

To address this issue, oncologists at Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital piloted an alternative method of conducting MDCs in which patient cases are posted in a virtual environment and discussed in an electronic chat room—freeing participants from the constraints imposed by time and location.

Operating in 21 states and the District of Columbia, Ascension is a massive healthcare system. In Wisconsin alone, Ascension operates 24 hospitals, 111 clinics, and employs more than 900 physicians. Jonathan Treisman, MD, FACP, medical director of oncology at Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital in Milwaukee, says Ascension’s considerable geographic footprint means that its specialists may be located in regions that don’t always share the same time zone.

“Since Ascension is a multi-location system, there were barriers to us holding traditional tumor boards,” says Dr. Treisman. “A virtual electronic conference can transcend the barriers that limit the number of cases reviewed and the thoroughness of those reviews.”

Dr. Treisman explains that the goal of Ascension’s electronic multidisciplinary conferences—or eMDCs—is to leverage the health system’s large network of specialty providers to enhance the care of individual patients: “Enabling physicians to gather and communicate when it is convenient for them to do so enables them to take full advantage of the power of Ascension’s considerable assets.”

But simply having a virtual environment does not address the difficulty of scheduling meetings among busy specialists with often-conflicting schedules. To overcome that hurdle, Ascension’s eMDCs allow for asynchronous communication, freeing participants from the constraints imposed by meetings scheduled for specific times.  

Dr. Treisman says that asynchronous communication also allows providers to continue to share information about specific cases over time. “At previously scheduled meetings, providers could only share the patient information available to them at that time,” says Dr. Treisman. “Any new information based on recommendations made by participants during or subsequent to tumor boards were not available to all participants. When the meeting was over, conversation stopped.”

The HIPAA-compliant eMDC platform enables specialists aligned with Ascension to view and communicate patient data, information, and images. “Participants can indicate a spot on a scan and ask others their opinions about it,” says Dr. Treisman. “As communications are posted, messages can go back and forth in a conversational manner. It’s like messaging on a cell phone—like Facebook for physicians. It allows an ongoing dialogue.”

Ascension’s one-year eMDC pilot program concluded in 2018. Dr. Treisman says his thoracic group continues to use and refine the platform, and it has also been adopted by Ascension Wisconsin’s gynecologic oncology group.

Sherri Costa, MS, RN, AOCNS, a cancer program specialist with Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital, says that during the eMDC pilot, the number of patient cases discussed by multidisciplinary teams increased four-fold. “Fifty-six percent of staff strongly agreed the eMDC platform was a good use of their time,” says Costa, “compared to 15 percent who felt that way about traditional tumor boards.”

“A lot of people are interested in using this,” says Dr. Treisman. “We have a lot of rural areas in Wisconsin that have less access to oncology specialists. This would allow them to interact with other providers and obtain more specialized care for their patients.”
Join us in Orlando, Florida, for the ACCC 36th National Oncology Conference, Oct. 30 - Nov. 1, where all of the 2019 Innovator Award recipients will share details on their creative solutions to real-world challenges in care delivery. View agendaEarly bird rates are available now through Sept. 6, 2019. Register today. 

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