Online conferences pioneer faster patient diagnoses

Imagine a technology that allows a dozen physicians to simultaneously participate in the diagnosis of a patient. What if these physicians were not in the same room, but were all over the Central Valley? Such technology now exists at Community Regional Medical Center.

In December, Community began offering live, weekly Internet conferences for physicians in the region to discuss cancer cases. Hosted through WebEx.com, physicians take part in live discussions, viewing case information right from their desks.

“The real value in the conferences is the immediate evaluation capability of a patient's problems by multiple MDs,” said Dr. Brian Clague, Community’s director of CyberKnife, a non-surgical alternative to treating inoperable tumors and lesions in the body.

 CyberKnife is an image-guided robotic surgical system that focuses doses of radiation on a tumor, minimizing adverse effects on healthy tissue around it. The CyberKnife procedure is knifeless, painless and requires minimal patient recovery time. Community Regional is the only hospital in the region with CyberKnife technology and treats patients from across California.

The conferences are hosted from the Charles and Ann Matoian Oncology Center at Community Regional. This is the first time these types of conferences have been made available to regional doctors, and they are the only conferences of this type in California. 

Patient cases discussed during the Web conferences are considered for CyberKnife treatment. Those patients who might qualify for CyberKnife are recommended to pursue it as a formal treatment, while those who might be best treated through other methods are referred.

“Using the WebEx software, we are seeing computer screen to computer screen the pictures that have been sent via satellite, while voice is carried over the telephone using conference call equipment,” Dr. Clague said. “This enables us to send X-ray images while maintaining high definition of the patient’s pictures.”

Local physicians had shown an interest in attending Community’s weekly conferences, which it has been hosting for three years, to discuss current cases. However, many were unable to attend the conference in the middle of a workday. 

“Unfortunately, we do not have the participation of all of our conferees because of their time constraints,” Dr. Clague said. “In an effort to give MDs more options in attending, we decided to export the meeting to them.”

“We regularly engage the MDs at the California Cancer Center, and we occasionally get MDs from across the state like Merced, San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria,” Dr. Clague said. “MDs have found this very helpful so far.” 

Dr. Clague helped create the content of the Internet conferences, and said the multidisciplinary approach looks at all the options for a patient with cancer.

“We can cut the wait time for a patient with advanced cancer from about two to three weeks to about one week with these live conferences,” Dr. Clague said.

In the few weeks the conference has gone online, about 25 patient cases have been discussed so far between physicians from multiple locations.

Dr. Clague sees this conference format as beneficial to programs that rely on imaging like X-rays and positron emission tomography scans.

“Another program that could benefit from this conference format is the thoracic surgery center at the Fresno Heart and Surgical Hospital, just because of how the technology works,” Dr. Clague said.

Patient confidentiality is also preserved in this conference format, as patients are never identified by either their name or initials. If a case is recommended for CyberKnife treatment, the patient’s physician will take the necessary steps.

“As a teaching tool we expect that once we get participants in Porterville and Visalia to join we will begin to extend the benefits of CyberKnife as a regularly considered option to their patients,” Dr. Clague said. “Patients here already know we have something special with CyberKnife.”


This story was reported by Jennifer Mastro. She can be reached at MedWatchToday@communitymedical.org.