Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center spent about $25 million over two years to refurbish and expand its Baton Rouge facility with a design that emphasizes patient comfort, convenience and stress reduction.
To accomplish that, the decor incorporates paintings and works by homegrown artists, plants, natural materials and a number of privacy nooks, where patients and family members can catch their breath and recharge their electronic devices.
But those details aren’t the point of the redesign, said Todd Stevens, chief executive officer.
“The physical setting is nice and beautiful. But it’s intended to be a place where the physicians and the caregivers are able to collaborate and do what they do best,” Stevens said.
Patients diagnosed with cancer have an army of people — sometimes as many as seven physicians — providing their care. Along the way, patients hit almost every health care service, including inpatient services, radiology, nutritional support and the emergency room.
“When that journey is not coordinated, it’s a difficult journey for that patient, and it’s one that can affect their outcomes,” Stevens said.
Cancer-treatment programs nationwide are looking for opportunities to redesign care, said Lindsay Conway, managing director of research and insights at The Advisory Board Co., a health care and higher education consulting firm. Facilities are looking at everything from processes and procedures to the physical space and staffing models in an effort to improve the experience for patients, their family members and caregivers.
Mary Bird and the Lake began the effort to better coordinate the patient journey in January 2009, Stevens said. Executives from both facilities sat down together, looked at the resources and treatments available and asked themselves one question: “What are we going to do in our community so we can afford these investments?”
In 2012, Mary Bird signed an affiliation agreement with the Lake with the goal of improving survival rates and lessening the burden of cancer. Mary Bird and the Lake established a team of senior executives to figure out how to do that while meeting patients’ desires. In addition to doctors who specialize in the patients’ particular cancer, technology and treatment options, and clinical quality, patients wanted:
All of the services — radiation, imaging, chemotherapy — in one building
Specialized symptom management for each type of cancer and treatment
One point of contact to help patients understand their care.
Stevens said the executive team-up “turned us loose” to leverage all of the power on the Lake’s and Mary Bird’s campuses.
The joint effort also generated a redesign that encouraged collaboration.
Now, the doctors and caregivers interested in a specific type of cancer — radiologists, pathologists, oncologists, radiation oncologists, research nurses and so forth — meet once a month to talk about the best way to treat a patient. And they do so in a high-tech conference room, packed with multiple screens and computers, that can accommodate 20 to 30 physicians and support personnel.
They look at national guidelines, discuss the cases they’ve seen, talk about what they could have done better and decide on standards of care, Stevens said. So when a patient goes to the cancer center, the doctors know how they want to care for that person and how the patient should be evaluated, from taking his or her history to lab tests and imaging.
They know how the care team will share that information, and if it’s a complicated case that doesn’t fit their established guidelines, the doctors and support workers know how to get together and figure out the best treatment for that patient.
All of that collaboration helps the cancer center manage costs, Stevens said. The center knew that if it could get the physicians in one building, the doctors could come up with the most efficient methods of treatment.
It’s too early in the process to determine how much the cancer center can cut costs with the defragmented approach, Stevens said. But the technique has been proven to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and emergency room visits, where care costs the most.
Patient satisfaction scores already have increased dramatically, Stevens said. The cancer center is tracking eight pages of benchmarks and eventually will be able to compare the data with cancer centers nationwide.
Parsing the improvement in patient satisfaction is difficult for now. The cancer center believes physician collaboration and increased convenience played a big part. But an interior design that encourages patients to focus on art or scenery also has been a factor.
“We’re looking for those moments where a patient is distracted by something that takes the place of the stress,” Administrator Linda Lee said.
Conway said a small but growing body of evidence suggests that things like natural light and views of natural outdoor environments affect patients’ mental and physical well-being.
“And so in response to that, there’s absolutely been a different philosophy guiding a lot of facility redesign efforts over the last 15 years or so,” Conway said.
Lee said the cancer center’s philosophy is simple: Make sure patients are comfortable from the time they arrive until their visit ends.
Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr.