MedCity Influencers

Guidance and Education For Employees Facing a Cancer Journey

In vulnerable moments when employees need it most, virtual specialty care delivers a human connection that offers empathy, support, and guidance.

Let me share the story of a recent patient named Franklin. 

Sudden weight loss and persistent abdominal pain led Franklin, an administrator at a large university, to visit his primary care doctor who ordered some tests. When the test results revealed a sizable mass on his pancreas, Franklin was scared. He wanted answers: Is it cancer? Do I need chemo? What do I do? Who can help me?

Even for the most common cancers in the U.S. (breast, lung, colon, and prostate) it can take upwards of a month to get an appointment with a specialist. In the last 20 years wait times have doubled to see oncologists. The average time to treat is about six weeks and many studies show that longer time to treat worsens outcomes. For Franklin and his family, the wait was too long—especially at such an emotional time. Instead, they turned to virtual care. 

Virtual care networks help people navigate the healthcare system and can connect them to leading specialists—for answers to any health question. 

Virtual care transforms speed of access to answers 

Virtual care gave Franklin a fast and easy place to start: an online platform that allowed him to ask questions and meet with a doctor for guidance. In a matter of days, Franklin was connected with a hospitalist who listened intently, asked thoughtful questions, and guided Franklin (and his family, who also participated in the meeting) through a typical treatment plan for pancreatic cancer. 

She spent almost an hour answering Franklin’s questions, describing different options, and empowering him to look past his fear to his options. And she reassured him that she would continue to be available to provide personalized guidance.

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She encouraged Franklin to see an oncologist at an academic medical center so that he could look into other options like clinical trials. The physician then provided a curated list of leading oncologists and assured Franklin that these specialists could work with his local doctors to offer additional guidance and support on the best course of treatment.  

Start with virtual care

People with cancer no longer carry the burden of unanswered questions for the weeks or months it takes to schedule the next in-person appointment. With the support of a virtual network of leading specialists, patients can access support quickly and conveniently, and they can include their family members and caregivers in the process. 

Typically, employers provide membership to virtual care as an employee benefit. For an employee-member, like Franklin, facing cancer, here’s how it works:

  • Access to answers. Virtual care serves as a clinical front door to trusted medical information. Members, employees, and their families can ask any health question, no matter how general or specific, from “where do I start?” to “what is the best medication for my cancer?” 
  • A guide throughout the journey. Members are quickly connected with a compassionate physician who provides personalized support throughout their cancer journey. This physician serves as a guide who helps members and their families navigate the complexities of the healthcare system. By providing answers and a framework for approaching the concern, virtual care supports patient decision-making and empowers members with information and guidance that can help transform the complexity and fear of cancer into specific plans that create a path forward in care.
  • Fast connections to leading specialists. Members can be connected to  a network of leading specialists within hours or days, across any specialty or subspecialty, based on their specific type of cancer and their place in the cancer journey. Access to the right specialist supports personalized treatment recommendations and can drive better outcomes.

Support for the journey

More than 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year—and recently there has been a troubling increase in late-stage cancer diagnoses. Imagine if all employees had the same access to medical guidance and support that Franklin did.

Help navigating the healthcare system, coupled with convenient, personalized access to the right specialists vastly improves each patient’s journey, ameliorating feelings of hopelessness and loneliness—granting them better information and a greater sense of agency. In vulnerable moments when employees need it most, virtual specialty care delivers a human connection that offers empathy, support, and guidance—helping members take control of their healthcare decisions and optimizing health and quality of life. Employers who provide virtual care benefits, deliver a people-first benefit that demonstrates care and concern, even while supporting better outcomes at lower cost — emotionally, socially, physically, and financially.

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images

Mary Mulcare, MD, FACEP, is the Chief Medical Officer at Summus and oversees all clinical aspects of operations. Mary also serves as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine, and has held several leadership roles at Weill Cornell, including Director of Undergraduate Medical Education in the Department of Emergency Medicine and Assistant Director of the Margaret and Ian Smith Clinical Skills Center. She continues to make significant academic contributions to the fields of medical education and Geriatric Emergency Medicine. Mary completed her undergraduate education at Princeton University and obtained her medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating with honors from the AOA Medical Honor Society and the Gold Humanism Society. She served as Chief Resident of the Emergency Medicine residency program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and completed a fellowship in Geriatric Emergency Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical Center.