WellSpan Health’s Collaboration with Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center Expands Options for Local Cancer Patients

By Jennifer Webster
Thursday, October 26, 2017

WellSpan Health builds on a tradition of high-quality cancer care through its collaboration with the world-renowned Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center is one of the nation’s leaders in research and innovation. This new collaboration will bring expanded access to clinical trials for patients of WellSpan’s coordinated network of cancer centers, which include WellSpan Adams Cancer Center in Gettysburg, WellSpan Ephrata Cancer Center, WellSpan Sechler Family Cancer Center in Lebanon, WellSpan York Cancer Center and Cherry Tree Cancer Center in Hanover.

Advanced Care, Smooth Transitions

The collaboration will provide WellSpan cancer physicians with second-opinion services from Johns Hopkins specialists who frequently treat the most complex cases.

For rare and complex cases that require advanced treatment technologies, the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center will also serve as a referral destination, providing WellSpan patients a seamless transition of care.

Sherif Yacoub, MD, radiation oncologist at WellSpan Adams Cancer Center in Gettysburg, reviews images prior to discussing treatment options with his colleagues.

“Our goal is to make sure our patients have access to the expertise they need, whether it’s through the coordinated and compassionate care of our WellSpan oncology specialists or through expanded clinical trials at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center,” says Douglas Arbittier, MD, Vice President, Oncology Service Line, WellSpan Health. “With this collaboration, WellSpan and Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center are fighting cancer together.”

In this way, the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center will be a referral center for patients with rare or recalcitrant disease, providing them the benefits of expertise and technology that could otherwise be difficult to access. Advanced pathology and tumor genetics are among the services available to WellSpan’s patients, says Kenneth J. Cohen, MD, MBA, Director of Strategic Planning and Integration at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

Dr. Cohen notes that both systems use the same electronic medical records platform, which can streamline communication between health systems for patient care. When patients do need a consultation, test or certain highly specialized procedures, such as a bone marrow transplant, at Johns Hopkins, records and imaging will transfer seamlessly between providers, meaning services can be provided quickly and without redundancy.

Opportunities for Leading-edge Treatments

Patients benefit in more subtle ways, as well. An NCI-Designated Cancer Center by the National Institutes of Health, the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center is directly involved in translating scientific research into cancer therapies. Patients whose cancers do not respond to first- or second-line therapies, or who have rare cancers, may be referred to clinical trials.

“This collaboration is beneficial for the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, WellSpan and its patients,” Dr. Cohen says. “WellSpan serves a wide geographic area, and many of its patients are in close proximity to Johns Hopkins, so we can enroll WellSpan patients in clinical trials that may enhance their outcomes significantly.”

“We don’t anticipate that most WellSpan patients will travel to Johns Hopkins for treatment. Rather, the partnership between WellSpan Health and the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center offers WellSpan’s cancer specialists access to second opinions from Johns Hopkins oncologists and the opportunity for patients to participate in phase 1 and 2 clinical trials without entirely leaving the care of their own physicians.”
— Kenneth J. Cohen, MD, MBA, Director of Strategic Planning and Integration at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center

Specifically, patients benefit from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center’s broad participation in phase 1 and 2 clinical trials. A phase 1 trial, marking the use of a new treatment in humans, evaluates the safety and effectiveness of the medication or protocol. A phase 2 trial moves the study forward, evaluating the treatment’s safety and effectiveness compared with other therapies.

“The fact that Hopkins is just an hour from most of our community cancer centers makes it very feasible for patients to participate in these early-stage yet promising clinical trials,” Dr. Arbittier says. “We have access to the full range of trials in which Hopkins is involved, so our oncologists and oncology research nurses are able to match patients with any available trials. This happens now through our WellSpan trials network but is expanding with the earlier-stage trials available in the Hopkins network.”

Quality-improvement Protocols

WellSpan currently boasts high-quality benchmarks, taking a leading role in South Central Pennsylvania’s Aligning Forces for Quality collaborative. As such, collaboration with a national leader in patient safety and quality is a win for both institutions.

Johns Hopkins Medicine is known for its national leadership in safety and quality of care. It has long experience in gauging metrics as diverse as hospital readmission rates and hand washing. Protocols for recording, tracking and comparing progress lead to improvements in the quality of care offered and thus to better outcomes. Tools from self-service dashboards to coursework and seminars support their quality improvement program, which is based on guidelines promulgated by the Commission on Cancer, the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

The benefits of that experience are now available to WellSpan staff. Johns Hopkins personnel can conduct on-site visits to help assess programs from a quality-improvement standpoint and to provide expert guidance.

Amit Shah, MD, radiation oncologist, talks with Marcelle League, radiation therapy supervisor, about the day’s schedule at WellSpan York Cancer Center.

Patient-centered Medicine

WellSpan has an established reputation for its care of the whole patient. Its geographically distributed facilities allow patients to access most of the care they need in their local communities. Weekly tumor boards allow medical, radiation and surgical oncology specialists to share information among a network of centers spanning four counties, while services available at multiple locations reduce patient travel times. The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center collaboration builds on and deepens those advantages, according to Dr. Arbittier.

“We believe in providing local cancer care in the communities we serve,” he says. “We are dedicated to engaging local community physicians and creating solid, collaborative relationships with our colleagues at Johns Hopkins. Our goal is to keep patients in the community throughout the course of their treatment.”

Additionally, patients at WellSpan benefit from support programs including counseling for survivors, palliative care, cancer prevention, navigation services and rehabilitation, both pre- and post-treatment. That dovetails with Johns Hopkins’ commitment to excellent wraparound care for cancer patients. It has pioneered programs in areas such as screening and prevention, care of long-term cancer survivors, and genetics.

Open Lines of Communication

WellSpan Health leverages the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center’s high patient volume and deep experience in standardization of practice — both of which research has shown lead to better outcomes — even as the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center benefits from clinical trials data gleaned from WellSpan’s large pool of Central Pennsylvania patients.

Those efforts, as well as collaboration with other providers, keep the well-being of the individual patient at the center of the collaboration.

“We strongly believe in providing the highest-quality cancer care in all of our communities,” Dr. Arbittier says. “Part of our strategy is to collaborate wherever it makes sense with respected institutions that can help us succeed in this mission. We also know that our relationship with referring physicians is critical to bringing timely cancer care to our patients.

“One of our goals, therefore, is to maintain open communication with all our referrers. We want to be seen as a great local resource — one that can serve as a point of connection to high-quality academic medicine when necessary.”

Visit WellSpan.org/Oncology to learn more and for contact information for each cancer center.