Cancer Treatment Centers of America: 'Every patient is a member of our family'
John McNeil, President and CEO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America Eastern Regional Medical Center in Philadelphia, visited AL DÍA News for an hour-long discussion about cancer and the center’s approach. It is one of the five Cancer Center Treatments of America throughout the nation — first one was Chicago, the second in Tulsa, the next in Philadelphia, and now two newer centers in Phoenix and the Atlanta region.
Here is what John McNeil had to say at the editorial roundtable:
About Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s goals:
¨Everything we do is from the perspective that every patient is a member of our family, and not everyone with cancer will find a way through our door, but for those who do, they became our family. As far as any particular group, it is not about Hispanic and it is not about Black or White. It’s family.¨
¨Our goal is not, by the way, to eradicate death, not even the cure of cancer can do that. It is not about if we die of cancer or not. I don’t care if a have cancer in my death certificate some day. I care when I get it and I care what happens before I get it. And I don’t want to get it too soon. So our goal is not the eradication of death our goal is to do what we can to partner with anyone who can help us on behalf ‘Mom,’ to improve quality of life and to celebrate life together. And that’s all everyone of us can really hope for — whether we have a cancer diagnosis or not — to live the most meaningful, longest possible life, with the best quality of life. And to celebrate life together and make a difference in each others lives. And that’s what we are here in Philadelphia to do.¨
About the Mother® standard of care:
¨We want every patient to get the care that we will want for our own mother.
And the kind of care I want for my family begins with the very best in medicine that we can make available, that we can find anywhere. We are continually scouring for powerful innovative options, whether be in genomics, precision medicine, personalized medicine... In fact, it should always be personalized. There is no such a thing as a typical person, with a typical response to a typical disease. Everyone is an individual.
“We want the best in technology — and there is an amazing technology that we have acquired from institutions and research facilities around the world — but we want more than that. We have an integrative approach that focuses on the whole person body, mind and spirit. That includes a very strong focus on nutrition.¨
About the cost:
¨What we do is very costly. We have amazing technology, a million dollar piece of technology in health care is a cheap piece of technology. So we made a $200 hundred million investment in our campus, in what we do, the talent, the neurosurgeons and surgical oncologist. The talent and the technology are very expensive. But there is more than one way to look at the cost question.The studies that make comparisons between hospitals show that our charges are very much in range with other Philadelphia hospitals.¨
About Medicaid and Medicare coverage:
“Medicare is another complex discussion. Medicare does not come close to covering our cost. We can’t have an unlimited amount of Medicare or we’d go out of business, so we limit how much we can accept. We would have a very ,very busy hospital until we closed if we took every Medicare patient from all over the country.
“We have (in its place) a Mary Brown Stephenson charity program for people who live within a five-mile circumference from the hospital, who have cancer and need help. There is an application process. But we almost always say yes. It’s for people who don’t have insurance, by the way. I would include in that Medicaid, which pays even less that Medicare. (And we are not a licensed Medicaid provider.) But if there are somebody in our neighborhood who has Medicaid or otherwise doesn’t have insurance, they can apply for (the Mary Brown Stephenson) program.¨
About the Center’s patients:
¨Our largest group of patients come from New York; Philadelphia is second, and Washington third. In 10 years we have treated patients from every state in the union, with one exception — despite being established on Wyoming Avenue in Philadelphia — we have never have a patient from Wyoming.¨
About the staging of their patients:
¨Just over half of our patients are analytic (haven’t been treated before), so they may be late stage, they may have been told ‘there’s nothing for you to do except go home and die’. Or they may only recently been diagnosed, but not yet been treated. Just under half have been pre-treated, and most of those have been heavily pre-treated. Some of them have even been in clinical trials.¨
About the impact of quality of life and selling hope:
¨We never promise to our patients ‘if you come to us you’ll live five years,’ that would be wrong, we can’t promise that. But we don’t ever want to ever want to destroy hope in those who want to try treatment. We’ve treated a lot of pancreatic cancers, for example. We don’t give up easily, and ultimately it’s up to the patient to determine as to ‘this is no longer a quality of life I want to live.’ I am a strong believer in the value and the importance of hospices care.
¨We have a celebration of life every year. We bring back our patients who have been treated successfully and have survived five years; most of them had been told the couldn’t make it one year. And we have a very big party. Last year was more than 100 people, including three five-year pancreatic cancer survivors.¨
About naturopath and other non science-based treatments:
¨Everything we do, including naturopathy is based on evidence and has a lot of research to support it. We don’t practice alternative medicine. The naturopaths do a lot to help. When our patients come in they don’t even think to talk to many physicians about the supplements they are taking. The naturopaths sometimes go through bags of supplements, they help the patient understand ‘this one can help you, this one it may do harm.’ It’s a combination of symptom-management and also sometimes harm-avoidance. The medical doctors on our team, typically, have no prior experience with naturopaths so they are skeptical when they first come, but they’ve been quickly won over by their knowledge¨.
About American health system:
¨I will tell you the American health care system is badly broken and is still the best health care system in the world. It has terrible flaws and that include people who don’t have insurance, who have a hard time accessing the quality care they need. There are a lot of things wrong with the American health care system and yet there is a reason that people fly from all over the world for health care in America. Because it’s excellent and it’s science and it’s research and it’s technology.”