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Virtual Visits Now Bring The Entire Esophageal Cancer Team Right to You

June 23, 2021

A new cancer diagnosis is scary, emotional and logistically complicated for patients. Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health team is committed to streamlining those logistics, which can help relieve some of the stress and fear as well.

Esophageal cancer virtual visits, scheduled to launch soon, will bring together the entire medical team and the patient in an introductory session that will set the course for treatment.

“Esophageal cancer is one that definitely needs a multi-disciplinary approach,” said Dr. Mario Katigbak, Hartford HealthCare’s Chief of Thoracic Surgery. “Typically, treatment will involve chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. And that means the patient will see three different specialists. It can be hard to coordinate all this under the best of circumstances.”

So the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute and the Digestive Health Center created virtual visits in which the patient meets the entire team one by one online, and then the team meets to develop a treatment plan.

Esophageal cancer forms in tissue lining the esophagus, the muscular tube through which food passes from the throat to the stomach. Symptoms include trouble swallowing, unintentional weight loss, chest pain, worsening indigestion or heartburn, and coughing or hoarseness. Often a patient will be seeing a gastroenterologist and will be referred for cancer screening.

The visit will be coordinated by a nurse navigator, and will include 30 minutes each with:

  • A thoracic surgeon to discuss the cancer, lab results, diagnostic imaging, and surgical options
  • A medical oncologist to describe the type of treatment that is best for the stage of your cancer, your goals and general medical condition
  • A radiation oncologist to review and recommend relevant treatment options

After these conversations, the meeting pauses while the team discusses what each member has learned, and together they formulate a treatment plan. The patient then will speak with all three experts together. They will explain their joint recommendation for treatment options and answer any questions.

The nurse navigator will be available to discuss next steps and help the patient follow up on the treatment options discussed. The nurse navigator will also act as a central contact during treatment, assist with questions, provide education, resource materials and ensure timely scheduling of future appointments.

Katigbak noted that during the pandemic, both patients and healthcare providers became proficient at telehealth virtual visits, which will help make this program successful. He also said that urologists have been using this approach with great success for prostate cancer.

“Of course, we will still see patients,” he said. “That’s not going away. But this hybrid approach will help make the whole process easier for the patients at the outset. We have cutting-edge technology and treatments in Connecticut. Patients no longer have to travel to New York or Boston to get world-class care. We have it right here, and with this we can bring it into their homes as well.”

Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute