A patient’s journey through cancer can be one of the most difficult challenges they will ever have to face.

They are tested both physically and mentally as their body fights off a foreign and invasive disease. And the added stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t made things any easier on the individuals fighting their cancer diagnosis every day.

While COVID-19 has disrupted many aspects of a normal routine, one thing that has not changed is the weekly cancer conference held at the Harbin Clinic Cancer Center.

Beginning in 2003 and created by the late pulmonary critical care physician Dr. Tony Warren, a group of Harbin Clinic physicians from multiple specialties and practices began meeting weekly to discuss lung cancer patient cases and treatment options in detail. These weekly conversations later grew to include a separate breast cancer conference.

Today, a weekly conference is still held every Friday morning, but the conversation now includes all cancer types and the ability to meet virtually, an update that was quickly adopted at the onset of COVID-19.

“The benefit of the weekly conference is that even during COVID-19, we can virtually bring everyone to the table — the nurse practitioners, genetic counselors, navigators, radiologists, surgeons, pathologists, everyone who will touch that patient during her journey — and give real-time updates about their progress and discuss how to manage and treat the disease,” says Harbin Clinic oncologist and hematologist Dr. Melissa Dillmon.

Harbin Clinic is the largest privately and physician-owned multispecialty clinic in Northwest Georgia. Between the 140 physicians and 40 specialties is an open line of communication that allows for easy transfer of information and updates between providers.

“For our cancer patients, the key is that we all communicate and focus on what’s best for the patient,” says radiation oncologist Dr. Matt Mumber. “These weekly multidisciplinary meetings consist of physicians from multiple specialties and backgrounds, and we view every patient case individually and closely.”

Dr. Mumber explains that by enhancing upfront communication, these weekly conferences drastically improve the quality and efficiency of the patient’s care.

The weekly cancer conference also provides a space for physicians to discuss the implementation of new diagnostic and therapeutic treatments.

“We are always looking at genomic profile and DNA make up of each patient’s cancer so that we can provide individually tailored treatment to each patient, such as targeted therapies and genomic-based precision therapies,” says Harbin Clinic oncologist and hematologist Dr. Dilawar Khan.

Dr. Kelly Mayfield, Harbin Clinic general surgeon, said the cancer conference has a large impact on cancer care in the community.

“We have a treatment plan from the beginning, and it isn’t getting changed from one provider to the next. This makes a huge difference in our patient’s care,” Dr. Mayfield said.

The conference also includes input from providers at Southeastern Pathology, Rome Radiology Group and The Breast Center at Floyd.

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