Streamlining Community Oncology Care in Arizona With an AON Alliance

February 23, 2021

Partners | <b>American Oncology Network</b>

In an interview with Targeted Oncology, Shana N. Wingo, MD, discussed how the opening of Cancer & Blood Specialists of Arizona will help to serve the greater Phoenix area and how its partnership with AON will improve cancer care in the area.

In March 2021, an Arizona-based community oncology practice, Cancer & Blood Specialists of Arizona will open as a result of a partnership with American Oncology Network (AON), which became effective in mid-February. The news practice seeks to bring more personalized yet state-of-art experience to patients in area.

The three new locations will serve the greater Phoenix area with 4 physicians, who together will provide comprehensive treatment to patients with solid tumor and hematologic malignancies. The medical oncologists in the practice are Tania Cortas, MD, CPE, and Mazen Khattab, MD, CPE, and the gynecologic oncologists include Snehal Bhoola, MD, and Shana N. Wingo, MD.

In an announcement about the new practice, Wingo stated, “Working with AON, we look forward to continuing to build upon our 40-year collective history of providing the highest quality cancer care that is based on research and delivered with compassion and kindness in consideration of each patient as a unique individual.”

Wingo furthered the conversation about the plans for the new practice during an interview with Targeted Oncology. She discussed how the centers will help to serve the greater Phoenix area and how the partnership with AON will improve cancer care in the area.

TARGETED ONCOLOGY: Can you provide background on your practice and the community of patients you serve?

WINGO: I've been in practice in "The Valley," which is what we the Greater Phoenix area for over 10 years, our new group will be with 3 other physicians 2 medical oncologists, as well as another gynecologic oncologist. Collectively, the 4 of us have over 40 years of practice and experience in The Valley. We are looking to create a new way to take care of cancer patients. Hopefully that will be unique to the market.

We over time have seen that the push in this area specifically has been to create larger oncology centers, which in theory is a good idea. But I think part of the issue with that is that patients end up missing some of the personalized care. We have seen that in our practice and wanted to sort of improve upon what we could do to make the patient's oncologic experience better. We have chosen to affiliate with AON so that we can take the cancer care that we provide at a new level to serve our patients and a more personalized fashion.

TARGETED ONCOLOGY: What are the key challenges with treating gynecologic malignancies in your region?

WINGO: Some gynecologic cancers are rare. What ends up happening with gynecologic cancers is that it's a specialized niche area. So, at the end of the day, you're doing very complicated surgery, or very intricate things that require a long hospital stay in some circumstances. The uniqueness of gynecologic oncology comes in to play because we provide not only the surgical specialists to the patient for their cancer, but we also do the chemotherapy, subsequent follow up, and survivorship.

One of the things about The Valley, although I think it’s improved significantly, is that the service line of gynecologc oncology was previously underserved. I think in some pockets of The Valley, that still tends to be the case. It all about bringing what we do and taking it further out into the community. Also, I think one of the issues with Arizona as a whole is gynecologic oncology services are centered around 2 major areas, the Tucson area and The Valley around Phoenix. The goal and hope is that we can actually take at least a portion of our services to some of the outlying cities that we serve, so that it minimizes the patients having to travel back and forth. As you get into other areas of the country, you see more gynecologic oncologists or they might be more spread out. There's a reasonable number of physicians in the actual Valley, but they're just not enough serving the outlying communities.

TARGETED ONCOLOGY: As a community oncology practice, do you stand to increase resources through your partnership with AON?

WINGO: One of the nice things about working with AON is that we're hoping to bring more services to the patient at their home or in the office that we've been historically unable to do. AON offers in-house laboratory facilities at all locations. Additionally, what we are excited about is that their in-house pathologists. What that means for the patient is we're collaborating with the same pathologists on nearly every patient for any biopsies that are done in the office. What ends up happening in that relationship is you have easy access to the doctor who is performing the pathologic evaluation, quick phone calls, or secure messaging.

We're also able to ask for specialized testing in an expedited fashion. We actually develop a rapport with other physicians that we’re working with. All of this serves to improve the timely delivery of care to patients. It also allows for us to get back to the patients more quickly get their treatment ordered and proceed and eases some of the anxiety as we move forward.

Some of the other good benefits that AON offers are the nutrition and the social services aspects of care. I think, while many oncology practices hope to integrate that, AON has been one that's been quite successful in doing so. Patients, depending on the practice, have either the ability to meet with those providers onsite, or they will have easy access through virtual meetings, to allow for interaction with some of these service lines that I think make the care comprehensive for patients. That's what we all need to do because we're not only treating the cancer, we're treating the patient and making them feel like we are looking out for them as a whole. There is so much more to treating cancer patients than just focusing on the cancer alone.

TARGETED ONCOLOGY: What are some of the key goals with this partnership?

WINGO: What we're looking to do is create an environment for patients where they come in, the staff knows them, all of the treatment is clearly laid out, and everyone's on the same page. I think that AON has successfully done that throughout the country in many of the community practices. It’s about trying to streamline and perfect something that's already been done and make it better. With AON this relationship serves to create better care for patients, as we all are on the same page. I can't state enough that as we get bigger, as the market grows, as things in medicine get bigger and bigger, what practices tend to lose the personalized touch. So, we're looking to create an environment that is collaboration with the other oncologists in the network, and where we establish tumor boards, and work together to help take care of patients. So hopefully, this collaboration will not only be within the Phoenix market, but across the board so that we can bring patients better care in the community setting.

TARGETED ONCOLOGY: Is there anything else you'd like to add about this announcement?

WINGO: I think that one of the things that is important to patients and should be is the ease of access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a lot of concern about being out and what we have seen with the progression of cancer care is that oral oncolytics, or chemotherapy or immune therapy that's given in tablet form is increased, and the trajectory continues to increase exponentially. One of the amazing things about AON is they provide an in-house pharmacy service. What that does is it provides the ability to deliver some of these agents that patients will be using as treatment directly to their front door, and that's usually within 4 business days. So again, the goal I think, from all of our perspectives is to create cost effective, compassionate care that's closer to home and easier for the patient. That is what we hope to do as physicians is to create an environment where patients feel like they can access us and make sure that they feel like they're well taken care of.

REFERENCE:
Cancer & Blood Specialists of Arizona to Open in Pheonix and Join the American Oncology Network, LLC. Febuary, 18, 2021; Fort Myers, Fla. Accessed Febuary 22, 2021 https://www.aoncology.com/2021/02/18/cancer-blood-specialists-of-arizona-to-open-in-phoenixand-join-the-american-oncology-network-llc/