The Need for Destination Cancer Centres

In-spite of all the progress that has been made in the treatment of cancer over the last two decades, cancer remains a fearsome foe. A diagnosis of cancer is a moment a patient or a caregiver is never likely to forget. The overwhelming emotion is usually of disbelief often accompanied by anger and an immeasurable sadness. It hits patients and their families hard. However, most patients now understand that this need not be a death sentence and they do have options of combating the disease. They may still go down, but they do know that they have the choice of giving the disease a real good fight.

The diagnosis of cancer leads to a quick search for cancer hospitals, oncologists and opinions are sought from close friends and relatives about choosing the right cancer hospital. This is a critical choice. Cancer treatment today requires a combination of great skill from individual oncologists, team-work amongst the onco-clinicians and high end technology support. All these elements need to work together to achieve a successful outcome. While, this may appear simple enough to achieve, in reality this is a herculean task and requires investments in well trained doctors, processes and IT solutions, which allow them to work together seamlessly. It also involves tremendous investments in some of the most advanced medical equipment to be installed and managed at the hospitals.

Thus, to provide world class cancer care, what is needed are dedicated cancer centres, which bring together all the elements of cancer care (people, processes and technology) along with little valued but a critical ingredient – focus. While, large multi-speciality hospitals do have reasonably good cancer services, I believe, they lack the focus and the attention to detail that a dedicated cancer service would bring.

The other important advantage of a dedicated cancer centre is that it creates a great eco-system for comprehensive cancer services. It brings together clinicians and care-givers who have dedicated their lives to cancer care. Most of them dive deep and develop unique expertise in their specialized fields of cancer work. They speak the same language, the bring a great passion to the fight against cancer, they foster the same spirit of innovation and a can-do attitude towards combating the disease. Essentially, everyone who works in a dedicated cancer facility has a common mission – to beat the disease. These are incredibly committed people, united by a mission to beat an implacable enemy. They tend to work together as a team. With such a team fighting for the cancer patients, the chances of success improve significantly.

Dedicated cancer facilities also tend to spawn research institutions and bring together the brightest cancer researchers to collaborate with clinicians at the fore-front of the battle against cancer. Many of these clinicians pursue academic work adding rigour to the clinical work that they do. These are folks who are willing to fight with their patients every inch of the way.

From a patient’s point of view a dedicated cancer facility is just about ideal. The knowledge and expertise is deep, the technology is state of the art and the processes designed with a single objective – to conquer cancer. The care-givers are committed and are willing to walk with the patient every step.

Yet, we hardly have any dedicated cancer facilities in India. This is particularly jarring when one considers the enormous and ever-growing burden of the disease in the country. We also do not lack in clinical expertise at least in the large metros. We have very good clinicians, trained in the finest institutions abroad, completely committed to the cause of fighting cancer.

The reason we do not have dedicated cancer centers is perhaps the very high upfront investment needed for a dedicated cancer facility and a long gestation period. Business-wise this is perhaps a very long haul and hard to sustain.

I believe the time is ripe for dedicated cancer facilities to come up in large metros in India. With their unique advantages, these hospitals should be able to attract patients from far and wide. They will become destination centres for patients seeking world-class cancer treatment. With increasingly discerning patients, carefully choosing their partners in the battle against cancer, the stand-alone cancer hospitals would break-even a lot sooner than thought possible so far.The opportunities for growth are limitless.

So are the opportunities to do good and to create an unbeatable legacy.

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