Primary Care Inside the Cancer Center Meets Patients Needs From Every Angle

Nicholas Petrelli, M.D.

The Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute at ChristianaCare is among the first cancer programs in the nation to offer patients undergoing cancer treatment the opportunity to see a primary care provider (PCP) on site if they don’t already have one of their own.

The new primary care practice builds on the success of the Graham Cancer Center’s Oncology Express Unit, a pilot program offering urgent care to cancer patients in distress during treatment. The primary care practice sees patients with non-urgent health concerns, expanding on-site services at the Oncology Express Unit to an even broader population of patients in need.

Since March 2018, the Oncology Express Unit has treated nearly 1,550 patients with acute care needs, 90% of whom avoided an emergency department visit.

Onsite primary care providers at the Graham Cancer Center through the Oncology Express Unit see patients with non-urgent health concerns so that essential care is convenient and without delay. Here, from left, are Nurse Practitioner Leslie Verucci, MSN, CNS, APN-BC; Cydney Teal M.D., chair of the Department of Family & Community Medicine and Primary Care Service Line leader; and Nurse Practitioner Debra Delaney, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, FNP-BC.

“Our ability to offer primary care services to our patients who need them alongside a multidisciplinary roster of cancer services all under one roof is highly unusual among major cancer centers,” said Nicholas Petrelli, M.D., Bank of America endowed medical director at the Graham Cancer Center.

“By adding a primary care provider on site, we are taking a novel approach to providing both the latest cancer treatments but also care designed to improve our patients’ long-term health.”

Christopher Koprowski, M.D., MBA

An informal survey among cancer patients at the Graham Cancer Center indicated that as many as 30% did not have a primary care provider. Having a primary care provider on site will open the doors for dialogue with the entire cancer care team so that essential patient care is not delayed.

“Our purpose is two-fold,” said Christopher Koprowski, M.D., director of Quality and Safety at the Graham Cancer Center.

“We want to take care of primary care problems that may arise during treatment to reduce urgent care or emergency department visits, and, after cancer treatment, to help our patients continue to have their primary care needs addressed.”

Cancer diagnoses often happen unexpectedly, often in a specialist’s office or in the emergency department, and more than half of patients diagnosed with cancer have other ongoing health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

“Cancer treatment can often profoundly affect these other medical problems,” said Cydney Teal, M.D., chair of the Department of Family & Community Medicine and Primary Care Service Line leader at ChristianaCare.

“Having a primary care provider working in partnership with the patient’s entire cancer care team, who understands potential treatment side effects and can be responsive to the patient’s other medical needs, can make all the difference to long-term health and well-being. Having them on site creates a whole new level of convenience for our patients.”

Patients are seen by referral at the primary care practice in the Oncology Express Unit at the Graham Cancer Center’s West Pavilion, Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to noon.

Primary care provider Debra Delaney, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, FNP-BC, has joined the team at the Graham Cancer Center at the Oncology Express Unit to care for patients referred by their cancer care providers. She is the first family nurse practitioner on site at the Graham Cancer Center.

Delaney has a keen interest in cancer care delivery and works closely with cancer care providers at the Graham Cancer Center, including members of each patient’s multidisciplinary disease site clinic team.

Her two decades of experience at ChristianaCare include 12 years as an advanced practice nurse treating adult and pediatric patients in trauma and acute care settings.

The addition of a family nurse practitioner to the cancer care team is the first step toward what could become an even broader partnership between oncology and family medicine.

Click here for more information about the Graham Cancer Center.