Carrying on Through COVID-19: Multidisciplinary Conferences at the Leever Cancer Center
As you know, COVID-19 has impacted many aspects of our lives — from increased hand washing and mask wearing to restrictions on gatherings with friends and family. There have been many changes at the Leever Center too. We have had to cancel all in-person support groups and events, follow guidelines for screening and safety, and change our cleaning and sanitizing protocols for everyone’s safety. One important aspect of patient care that has continued without interruption is our multidisciplinary conferences.
What is a multidisciplinary conference?
A multidisciplinary conference is a meeting of a group of professionals from one or more clinical disciplines who together make decisions regarding recommended treatment of individual patients. At the Leever Center there are three different multidisciplinary conferences held bimonthly: breast, colorectal, and thoracic.
How a multidisciplinary conference works
Each doctor presents information about individual patients, including an overview during which they describe the basics of the case. They may also present patient scans and imaging (X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, bone scans, slides from biopsies, etc.). The group discusses different treatment options and confers about next steps. The providing doctor considers all the input and makes the final determination about the best possible treatment plan.
Patient cases are usually presented at a multidisciplinary conference before treatment begins, but patients may be discussed at conferences throughout their care, and cases may be re-presented during treatment as well as after treatment is complete. Case presentations can take just a few minutes or up to an hour for more complex cases. After the patient’s case is presented, the doctor may meet with the patient to discuss the results of the conference and share some of the input provided by other specialists.
Which cases are reviewed?
A large percentage of Leever’s patient cases are reviewed in a multidisciplinary conference at some point. In 2020, Leever reviewed 226 breast, 160 thoracic, and 120 GI patient cases.
The majority of breast cancer cases are presented. For GI, colorectal, and thoracic cases, multidisciplinary conferences are usually scheduled for more complex or unusual situations.
Patients do not need to request that their cases be reviewed in a multidisciplinary conference, but they certainly can, and many do. If a patient asks, a doctor can make it happen — it is not difficult to get a case submitted.
Pivoting to virtual during the pandemic
Before the pandemic, multidisciplinary conferences were always conducted in person. When the pandemic arrived in the United States last year, in-person conferences with more than a dozen providers all together in one room became impossible.
The Leever Cancer Center quickly developed a plan to move multidisciplinary conferences to a virtual platform, with a small number of providers meeting in person and the majority of the remaining specialists participating via phone or video conference.
Leever invested in a HIPAA compliant platform called OncoLens, which optimizes data collection and care team coordination for cancer centers. When a multidisciplinary conference is scheduled, the software gathers the relevant data in advance, organizes the information for easier presenting, manages the workflow of the conference, stores the cases for record-keeping and future reference, and generates reports for accreditations.
There is also an important human element to Leever’s multidisciplinary conferences: Leever has a designated conference coordinator who is responsible for receiving cases, getting them assigned for preparation, and keeping track of cases to be re-presented.
Speed bumps, then full steam ahead
Like most people who transitioned to remote work due to the pandemic, the Leever team did experience some technical issues as everyone learned how to use the new technology, but providers and support staff adapted quickly and didn’t miss a single multidisciplinary conference.
Not only did multidisciplinary conferences continue uninterrupted, both the number of cases reviewed and the number of conference attendees increased in 2020. The Leever Cancer Center conducted 506 case reviews in 2020 compared to 475 at in-person conferences in 2019. And because the virtual conference software makes it more convenient for providers to attend (they can log in to the meeting from any location rather than having to be on site), more providers are able to take part. These days, up to 20 providers attend each conference — around five in-person at the Leever Cancer Center and up to 15 virtually.
An invaluable tool for patients and doctors
Virtual multidisciplinary conferences are an extremely valuable method of improving communication, providing a continuum of care, and ensuring the most effective treatment for patients, and the entire Leever team is committed to continuing the practice uninterrupted, pandemic or no pandemic.
“By bringing together our top specialists to discuss individual patient cases, we are giving each patient the benefit of a huge amount of knowledge and experience, and ensuring we leave no stone unturned in determining the best possible treatment for their specific case,” said Dr. Kert Sabbath, Medical Oncologist, Smilow Cancer Center at The Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center. “All of us at Leever are dedicated to helping each and every patient in the best way we know how, and our virtual multidisciplinary conferences help us make that happen."
Who attends multidisciplinary conferences?
Conferences are attended by healthcare professionals including:
- Medical oncologists
- Radiation oncologists
- Surgeons (breast, colorectal, or thoracic)
- Social workers
- Support and non-clinical administrative staff members