Dr. Jeffrey Wisch

Creating a 21st century cancer center

November 20, 2013
Newton-Wellesley Hospital doesn't just treat cancer: it supports patients and their families throughout the entire process, helping them heal mentally as well as physically. Its commitment to compassion is one reason the hospital won an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons in May of 2013. Jeffrey Wisch, who heads the program, shared his best advice on providing care that goes the extra mile.

DMBN: Tell me a little about yourself. How did you get to where you are today?
JW: My father, Dr. Marvin Wisch, was a huge influence on me as a child. Growing up in northern New Jersey, I used to accompany my dad on house calls. Sometimes, I'd even assist my dad during the wee hours of the night when patients showed up at our house where his office was located - and still is. To this day, at age 90, my father is still an actively practicing GP. In fact, his patients will not let him retire. In addition, my uncle, Dr. Nathaniel Wisch, is Chief of Oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He was also a huge influence on me when I was growing up. He had - and continues to have - a real passion for oncology that I truly admire and respect.

DMBN: What do you think makes your cancer center noteworthy and award-winning?
JW: I am proud to say the Vernon Cancer Center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital is a special place. We are a very active, community- based center that functions on a worldclass level. The entire team of physicians, nurses and staff is committed to delivering advanced, sophisticated treatment in a compassionate environment. From diagnosis to recovery and through long-term follow-up care, medical specialists are dedicated to supporting patients and their families and helping them maintain their quality of life.

It's the people who make the difference here at Newton-Wellesley. We set high standards to ensure that cancer patients receive not only outstanding care but also personalized attention. It's an absolute privilege to be a part of this program.

Our recent award from the Commission on Cancer underscores our commitment to sharing best practices and raising the bar on quality cancer care. We also hope that this will motivate other cancer programs to work toward improving their level of care.

DMBN: What has the process of building a program been like?
JW: The process has been very exciting and extremely fulfilling, but also demanding because we set such high standards for ourselves. It is so gratifying to take care of patients in our community, but [we] couldn't do it effectively without outstanding doctors, nurses, and support staff in place.

DMBN: What's a specific problem that came up while building the program, and how did you deal with it?
JW: If I have to identify a challenge, it would be funding for services that are crucial to a cancer patient's emotional well-being, but not normally covered by insurance. Although, since the center has been open, our Charitable Foundation has raised millions of dollars for the Integrated Support Services offered through the Cancer Center. These services can range from educational workshops to genetic counseling and nutritional support.

DMBN: How has health IT figured into your cancer program?
JW: We use EMR to help communicate between PCPs and other members of the multidisciplinary team of doctors and nurses and support staff caring for our patients. We also use it to order chemotherapy where there are many checks and balances, which minimizes the chance of any errors. This software also has a record of current patient medications and checks for any incompatibilities when ordering chemotherapy or other drugs.

DMBN: What plans do you have to continue building the program?
JW: The sky's the limit. We will continue to build this cancer program as long as there are patients to treat. For example, we have been adding more physicians to our staff and we are launching a psycho-oncology program to identify and support patients and families who are struggling emotionally with this difficult disease.

DMBN: What advice do you have for other hospitals working on developing a strong cancer program?
JW: To develop a strong cancer program, you must have dedicated clinical leadership who can work effectively with hospital administration. Also, support by other disciplines in the hospital setting such as nursing and ancillary services, play an integral part in developing a successful and comprehensive program.

Other advice? Accreditation is extremely helpful in setting benchmarks. Although it is purely voluntary and requires a large amount of staff resources, it clearly shows a center's commitment to its patients.