October 18, 2018
2 min read

Pathologist pioneered program that allows patients to see ‘the dragon’ they are trying to ‘slay’

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PHOENIX — A pathologist described her journey to create a community cancer program, in partnership with her hospital leadership, that offers patients an opportunity to review their pathology report findings with a pathologist, here at the Association of Community Cancer Centers National Oncology Conference.

Lija Joseph, MD, of Lowell General Hospital in Lowell, Massachusetts, said that while pathologists are the “doctor’s doctor,” they generally stay in the background of a patient’s care and do not have direct contact with the patient. She felt there was an opportunity to challenge this notion to benefit patients.

While looking to expand her hospital’s pathologist-patient interaction on social media, she met Linnea Olson, who was a patient at Lowell but “had to travel to a nearby town to evaluate and identify what lung cancer looked like.”

“I thought that’s not fair that a patient should have to travel to view a biopsy or view a disease,” Joseph said. “So, that’s how my journey started. And I can maybe say it was about competition, but also about compassion.”

Her hospital’s leadership and marketing team were supportive of the concept.

“They were supportive ... but there was no roadmap. We were starting from scratch,” Joseph said.

The Lowell General Hospital Patient Pathology Consult Program, which met with its first patient in March 2017, initially targeted patients with breast cancer.

Joseph said the program became the subject of magazine articles, which led to television appearances, and she “eventually started getting calls from all over the country asking how [they] did this.”

One patient told Joseph, “I know I am on a long journey, but I really want to see the dragon that I am slaying. That’s it. I really saw and encountered the dragon I am slaying, and it gave me the strength. ... I am not scared anymore.”

Joseph said that the process to set up such a program is usually initiated by an oncologist. She said patient visits with her are usually aligned with another doctor visit, so the patient does not have to make a separate appointment. Also, a secure HIPPA-compliant space had to be created in her lab and a process developed to grant consent to view the patient’s medical records. She said it is important to have a multiheaded scope or scope attached to a computer.

“They always want to see what is normal before they see abnormal,” Joseph said.

She said the program has been validated by a patient satisfaction survey.

Joseph said it is a special group of patients who want this service.

“Our cancer center director cautioned me when I started this program that eight out of 10 patients we will never see, and I accepted that. I said, ‘that’s fine, but for the two who want to see me, I want to be available for them,” Joseph said. “That is my guiding principle.”– by Joan-Marie Stiglich, ELS



Joseph L. A patient pathology consult program. Presented at: ACCC National Oncology Conference; Oct. 17-19, 2018; Phoenix



Disclosure: Joseph reports no relevant financial disclosures.