WellSpan Health Realizes New Benefits as Collaboration With Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center Grows

By Jenn Webster
Thursday, April 25, 2019

For almost two years, WellSpan Health and Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center have collaborated on cancer care and oncology research. As the relationship strengthens, WellSpan patients and researchers from both institutions experience increasing benefits.

Reena Pramanik, DO, radiation oncologist, WellSpan York Cancer Center, consults with a patient before a CT scan.

Clinical collaboration is among the metrics Douglas Arbittier, MD, MBA, Vice President of Oncology Services at WellSpan Health, tracks. Dr. Arbittier determines how often physicians from Johns Hopkins work with their colleagues at WellSpan to provide advice and second opinions. Patients at each of WellSpan’s cancer centers in Adams, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties have the option of a second opinion from a Johns Hopkins specialist, often without having to travel far from home. With metrics, WellSpan physicians can see how robustly the service is being used, as well as who they can contact at Johns Hopkins for a second opinion.

“I am proud of the advanced clinical capabilities of our medical, radiation and surgical oncology teams,” Dr. Arbittier says. “That being said, there are times when a second opinion can be truly valuable.”

A web portal has been set up to link WellSpan’s and Johns Hopkins’ oncology programs. With patients’ permission, WellSpan physicians transmit imaging and clinical information to an oncologist at Johns Hopkins, who will deliver a second opinion on a case. In-person visits for a second opinion are also available.

“If the patient isn’t able to travel, the virtual second opinion is an ideal option,” Dr. Arbittier adds.

Robert Rice, MD, PhD, Medical Director of Oncology Services at WellSpan Health, describes the second opinion option as a service that speeds connections and fosters communication, functioning similar to an oncology navigation service.

Historically, WellSpan physicians have been welcome to send patients to Johns Hopkins for a second opinion, Dr. Rice explains. Now, though, the process has been standardized — a designated contact at Johns Hopkins locates the oncologist with the most expertise in the particular area to review a patient’s case. And WellSpan physicians follow the patient through his or her visit to Johns Hopkins. Any communications or issues are routed through the contact person, meaning communication is streamlined.

“It is a service similar to nurse navigation,” Dr. Rice says. “We are able to achieve seamless handoffs without confusion.”

“WellSpan is committed to providing optimal care for our cancer patients in all our communities. We believe firmly in collaborating with other organizations wherever it makes sense. It’s been almost two years since we started working with the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, and in that time we’ve met regularly with our Johns Hopkins counterparts to discuss how to more fully leverage the agreement. I strongly believe this collaboration has secured solid gains for our patients, and that our patients will continue to reap the rewards in terms of original clinical research and the possibility of creating new opportunities for cancer treatment in the future. I look forward to continuing on this trajectory.”
— Douglas Arbittier, MD, MBA, Vice President of Oncology Services at WellSpan Health

Research Grants Incoming

Studies undertaken as part of the Johns Hopkins collaboration allow WellSpan patients extended access to clinical trials. Meanwhile, new collaborative undertakings — grant applications for large-scale projects that could only be made possible as part of a broad relationship — are in the works. Numerous physicians and researchers from both Johns Hopkins and WellSpan applied to be part of one of the grants, which is awarded to facilitate research on topics such as medical oncology, radiation oncology and population health. The oncology population health area is in focus right now, Dr. Rice says.

“We’re looking at research into enhancing care,” he says. “This could be in areas such as symptom management, safety and quality, and health and wellness.”

Two grants were recently awarded from the WellSpan Health - Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center Research Fund. One is a phase 2 single arm adaptive weight-loss study in postmenopausal women with early stage breast cancer. Vered Stearns, MD, Co-Director of the Breast Cancer Program at Johns Hopkins, is the Principal Investigator and the Co-Principal Investigator is Jillian Smith, MD, a surgical oncologist from WellSpan who specializes in breast cancer. The other grant is for research into reducing discontinuation rate of adjuvant endocrine therapy through symptom monitoring and management. Karen Smith, MD, MPH, breast cancer medical oncologist with Johns Hopkins, is the Principal Investigator.

Physicians from Medical, Surgical and Radiation Oncology confer often about cases to create the best care plan for patients.

Continuing Education for All Providers

Using a combination of live video conferencing and recorded lectures, WellSpan gives providers across its many locations a unique opportunity to benefit from grand rounds delivered by Johns Hopkins faculty. Johns Hopkins physicians visit the York campus monthly to deliver a lecture about a topic of interest to providers for cancer patients, which WellSpan staff can view directly at York through simultaneous telecast across WellSpan or via recording at a later date.

So far, the lecture series has included topics ranging from advanced therapies to patient well-being.

“Our first grand rounds were held by Patrick Brown, MD, Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, who talked about CAR T therapy,” Dr. Arbittier says. “The presentation was well-received by all attendees.”

Another popular talk series is tailored for allied health professionals, especially oncology nurses — though neither series is restricted, and any provider can access any grand rounds or lecture.

In October, the allied health presentation concerned survivorship planning and palliative care.

“Everyone who heard it was impressed by the quality of the presentation,” Dr. Rice says. “Johns Hopkins is a great medical school and facility for education, and we leverage that knowledge for the benefit of all our communities.”

Lectures aren’t the only way physicians connect across the two systems. Dr. Arbittier and his colleagues visit areas at both health systems to promote the program and work with oncology staff.

These visits also enable physicians to share information that enhances quality, safety and patient care, including learning from a multidisciplinary lung tumor clinic.

“Each time we travel to a Johns Hopkins Medicine location, we bring back insights and best practices to share with all our cancer centers,” Dr. Arbittier says.

“At WellSpan Health, psychosocial well-being is particularly important to us. We perform distress screenings with patients, looking to identify stressors in their lives, whether due to their diagnosis or other factors, such as work issues or economic problems. Almost all our centers have a social worker to whom we can refer patients. We are setting up programs to connect patients identified by the staff as being distressed with social workers who can help them.”
— Robert Rice, MD, PhD, Medical Director of Oncology Services at WellSpan Health

Neenos Alnoor, MD, medical oncologist, shares information about some treatment technology with Anita Miller, RN, and Whitney Yeingst, medical assistant.

Ever-Improving Care for the Whole Patient

Dr. Rice notes that the collaboration with Johns Hopkins Medicine enhances the already strong care at WellSpan. What he and his colleagues want most for patients is for them to experience smooth, seemingly effortless care, so they can focus solely on improving their well-being in every aspect of their lives.

“We could always make referrals, but now the process is easier,” Dr. Rice says. “I’m hoping patients don’t notice, because I want the transition to appear seamless. For instance, we are leveraging the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute training on patient safety and quality, but we want any changes to feel natural and consistent with the excellent, compassionate care WellSpan has always offered. We look at what they do and they find our approaches are interesting, as well. We work together to create good, safe care and a high-quality standard for each patient.”

The same mindset of humility, dedication to excellence and focus on every aspect of a patient’s well-being informs the entirety of WellSpan Health’s oncology program. Referrers to WellSpan’s medical, radiation or surgical oncologists can rest assured that WellSpan’s providers are committed to meeting patients’ medical, social and emotional needs in an atmosphere of collaboration, compassion and expertise. Most important, no matter how great the successes that providers at WellSpan achieve, they are always striving to do better tomorrow than they did today.

“Through our collaboration with Johns Hopkins, we are looking to add to the patient experience and enhance the care and quality we offer,” Dr. Rice says. “We don’t rest on our laurels. We want to bring top, internationally known care into the heart of our communities.”

To learn more about the collaboration between WellSpan and Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, visit WellSpanSpecialists.org/Cancer.