Georgia cancer clinic offers faster diagnosis for lung, esophageal cancer patients

It's crunch time at WellStar Health System's STAT Clinic. In one room, a patient is sick, wondering why. In another, a team of cancer specialists tries to come up with some answers and where to go from here.

Dr. Bill Mayfield, WellStar's Chief Surgical Officer and a thoracic surgeon, says the goal of the STAT Clinic is to diagnose lung and esophageal cancer patients faster, and then give them the care they need right here -- in the same place.

"All the communication, all the decisions, are being made in real time with the patient here and the family here," Dr. Mayfield says.

Mayfield says a former oncology nurse first suggested the idea of a team-based cancer center that could cut diagnose times and integrate care.

He says patients often wait months between knowing something is very wrong and getting a clear diagnosis and treatment plan. So, they're trying to reduce the wait time from 1-3 months to less than 2 weeks.

"And the concept is very straight-forward: instead of the patient going from doctor to doctor to doctor over a two months or three months period of time, trying to get a diagnosis and staging and treatment for their lung cancer, all the doctors come to the patient," explains Dr. Mayfield.

Gigi Bellamy is the STAT clinic's oncology navigator, who oversees their care and answers their questions. She's been through cancer treatment with family members. So, Bellamy says, the more quickly they can provide answers, the better patients feel about their treatment.

"So in a week's time we'll have a tissue sample, a diagnosis and a plan for that patient," Bellamy says.

The STAT team typically includes an oncologist, radiologist, lung specialist, lung surgeon, and cancer navigator.

Dr. Mayfield says they take a team approach to each case.

"All in the same place, the same time, and the same day, with the patient, and their study," he says. "This is not a tumor board, or a tumor conference, the patient is here."

Katherine DeJoseph was one of those patients, diagnosed with advanced lung cancer four and half years ago.

"It was the most horrifying period of my life, ever." DeJoseph says.

But DeJoseph says 6 doctors put their heads together and quickly came up with a treatment plan she trusted.

"I also figured there would also have to be all six of them wrong on the same day at the same time," she says. "So I had a much higher level of confidence that the diagnosis was right and that the treatment plan was right."

DeJoseph is now volunteers at the STAT clinic. She tries to make sure she meets lung cancer patients on the day of their diagnosis. DeJoseph says she wants them have the chance to talk to a survivor.

For more information you can call the Cancer Connect Line at (877) 366-6032.