By Dr. Gregory C. Henkelmann
As a radiation oncologist, I treat people who are undergoing treatment for one of the most difficult diagnoses they can face. I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to do the work I do. Treating those facing a cancer diagnosis has been my purpose since I was a child when my family lost a close friend to cancer. His death impacted me tremendously, and I devoted my life to fighting the disease. And with an aptitude in physics, I knew that radiation oncology would be a good fit.
After completing my residency at MD Anderson Cancer Center, I joined Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center and worked in Baton Rouge and the North Shore. After spending part of my first ten years working in Hammond, I was honored to help open our cancer center in Covington in 1998.
Since then, I’ve treated thousands of patients. Our practice has deep roots in the Northshore community, and I have had the privilege of treating wonderful patients in this community for decades.
I know firsthand how difficult receiving a cancer diagnosis is for patients and their families. It is an emotionally and physically trying time filled with uncertainty, fear and worry. But I also know that the right healthcare professionals can offer the care and support you need to help you through this challenging period, and make it as positive as possible. Here are three factors to consider that can help you select the right cancer care team for you.
Find Providers Who Can Be 100% Focused on Providing the Best Possible Care
Cancer care is a rapidly evolving and immensely complex field. But one of the most important factors that impacts care is the relationship between the patient and the provider.
For many large healthcare organizations, that relationship can be impacted by factors outside of the provider’s control. The reality is that cancer care at those organizations is simply one small part of a very large care network, and the healthcare organization must balance the needs and priorities of many different fields and areas of medicine.
Patient care can be driven by factors outside of the patients’ care needs, such as financial considerations, organizational needs or clinical pressures. Reimbursements from insurers often drive decisions about treatment plans, and doctors must seek the most cost-effective treatments.
But when doctors take an oath to practice medicine, they make a promise to the patient to offer the very best care possible, not to a practice or an organization.
At Mary Bird Perkins, cancer care is our mission, our passion. We don’t have incentives to make decisions based on factors that aren’t in the patient’s best interest or other areas of medicine in our organization competing for resources. We are 100% focused on providing the very best cancer care to every patient we see.
And we can provide the same leading-edge care to everyone, regardless of the patient’s financial situation. In fact, as providers, the patient’s financial situation isn’t even a consideration in our decisions about treatment. As a provider, I value the ability to ensure all my patients receive the very best possible care and don’t have to worry about whether they can afford a PET scan, for example. We can only do this because of the tremendous support of generous donors on the Northshore.
At Mary Bird Perkins, we have a commitment to this community. We always have the best interest of our patients at heart. And, in turn, the Northshore reinvests in our organization year after year.
Evaluate the Training and Credentials of Potential Providers
Patients undergoing cancer treatment should evaluate the credentials and the experience of their cancer care providers. One effective way to vet providers is by personally evaluating and vetting the institution and doctors where you’re considering receiving care. Mary Bird Perkins, for example, has a 50-year history of excellence in cancer care in our region and offers top-ranked programs in medical physics.
Not only is cancer care a rapidly evolving field, it also relies on highly specialized knowledge that requires the very best training and education to master. Medical physics and radiation oncology have advanced leaps and bounds in just the past two decades alone, and this progress also increased the complexity and sophistication of radiation treatment. Everything from the radiation treatment plan to the delivery of radiation to the technology used requires highly precise and specialized knowledge across the entire care team. But having access to this level of advanced training and leading-edge technology can have a significant impact on a provider’s success in treating cancer. A strong track record of successful treatment is essential.
But when it comes to cancer care, a provider is only as good as his or her team. Cancer care involves coordinating care across a range of providers with specialized roles, and the collective expertise and collaboration of the group can provide the full range of care and expertise patients need to receive the very best care. Our Northshore teams in Hammond and Covington receive some of the best radiation oncology training available anywhere in the world. When patients receive care at our facilities, they can be sure that their care team has the highest level of education and experience.
Ensure the Providers Have Access to the Latest Resources and Technology
Patients at our Northshore or Hammond facility are not just getting the expertise of the providers who are part of that practice, though. They also receive access to the collective resources of Mary Bird Perkins’ seven radiation centers and full access to advanced radiation technology, such as the Gamma Knife Icon, that would otherwise be unavailable to them in a community of that size.
The care received by patients in Covington and Hammond is comparable to other top-rated radiation programs, and they can receive that level of treatment right here in the community.
But to stay on the leading edge of radiation oncology, institutions must continually invest in the latest equipment and technology. We are very fortunate to have earned generous philanthropic support of the Northshore community to fund these kinds of investments in the future of cancer care. This partnership is part of what makes Mary Bird Perkins such a unique place be treated for cancer with clinical trials, advanced devices and oncology experts.
Whatever decision you make about your cancer care providers, you should make those decisions based on a full understanding of the care, expertise and resources available at that center to give you your best shot at a fighting chance in your battle against cancer.
Dr. Gregory C. Henkelmann is a radiation oncologist in Baton Rouge and Covington and a member of Southeast Louisiana Radiation Oncology Group. Dr. Henkelmann currently serves on the colorectal and skin & soft tissue multidisciplinary care teams (MDC) at Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center and the Breast Multidisciplinary Care Team at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Covington.