Innovative approach improves patient care
Tom Smith* had no way of knowing he had lung cancer – no cough, no pain, no symptoms at all.
But with a history of smoking, Tom’s physician recommended a computed tomography (CT) scan to screen for possible disease. That’s when they discovered the cancer growing inside Tom. The tumor in his lung was the size of a baseball.
He was referred to Providence thoracic surgeon Dr. Alexi Matousek just days after his CT scan.
Dr. Matousek soon learned the cancer wasn’t the only challenge Tom and his wife were facing. Tom was uninsured.
Easing the way
Lung cancer grows quickly and aggressively, which is why each day matters. Nurse navigator Lauri Ledbeter knew a lack of insurance would delay Tom’s care.
Lauri helped Tom sign up for the government health insurance program only four days after meeting with Dr. Matousek.
“Helping Tom sign up for insurance was remarkable,” Dr. Matousek said. “It shows what can happen when we work together to help our patients.”
A new method
Dr. Matousek is a pioneering physician in lung cancer care. He started at Providence Northwest Heart & Lung in 2019 and performed the first robotic lung cancer operation at Sacred Heart Medical Center in January of 2020. Just three years later, it is the largest robotic thoracic program in the region.
Dr. Matousek is dedicated to his patients inside and outside the operating room. He is part of a multidisciplinary team including nurse navigators, pulmonologists, radiologists, thoracic surgeons, medical oncologists, pathologists, and multiple support staff. They all work together to reduce the wait time between discovering a possible cancer and treating the disease.
Early detection and treatment are the key to battling lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide.
“Most people in our area are waiting 92 days for their first scan that shows the cancer to when they have surgery. That is too long,” Dr. Matousek said. “Patients are bouncing between providers when they don’t need to be.”
That’s what inspired Dr. Matousek and his colleagues to develop a system that makes it faster and easier for patients to work their way through the maze of tests, consultations, and procedures prior to surgery.
This coordinated approach led Dr. Matousek to do outreach at a primary care clinic where Tom was receiving care.
After clearing the insurance hurdle, it was a sprint to the finish line.
Tom had 18 appointments in just four weeks. Providence’s Dr. Jiten Patel performed a biopsy, which confirmed the cancer diagnosis. Then Tom had MRI and PET scans, along with other tests, to confirm he was a good fit for surgery.
His surgery happened just 30 days after his first CT scan, a drastic improvement compared to the average wait of three months.
Dr. Matousek removed Tom’s tumor using a state-of-the-art surgical robot. Tom knew he was in the best hands with the region’s preeminent robotic thoracic surgeon.
“I could not have asked for a better team. I have a full life to look forward to thanks to their care,” Tom said.
The innovative operation also meant a faster recovery for Tom, which allowed him to start the next phase of his cancer treatment sooner.
“The performance of our entire team was truly remarkable in Tom’s case – getting access to insurance, completing an extensive workup, and performing surgery in 30 days. That is something to celebrate,” Dr. Matousek said.
The Providence Community Mission Board recently recognized the care team for their collaborative effort with the Quality Innovation Award. The team was honored during the 2022 Patient Experience and Quality Innovators Award Dinner last November. Caregivers and providers recognized included:
- Lauri Ledbeter
- Kim Ward
- Jana Jensen
- Rebekah Hart
- Dr. Jiten Patel
- Dr. Alexi Matousek
- Dr. Allison Tillack
- Dr. Scott King
Learn more about Providence Thoracic Oncology Program online.
*Patient name has been changed for publication.