BOSTON (CBS) — While most of the world has adapted to “virtual” medicine during the pandemic, it’s nothing new for some patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Rich Boyajian, a nurse practitioner in Radiation Oncology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, is the founder of the Virtual Prostate Cancer Clinic.
🎬📺 Free Movies and Free TV Shows! 🎭🎬
Nearly a decade ago, when he realized how far patients traveled for routine tests and how busy doctors were going through the test results.
“There must be a better way,” he thought.
With a grant from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boyajian created the program and software.
When the virtual clinic opened in 2016, David Fraley was one of the first patients to enroll. He immediately saw the convenience and efficiency.
Fraley, who was being treated for prostate cancer in 2011, no longer had to drive all the way to Boston for lab work. He could do it in Foxboro.
“You don’t have to waste three or four hours a day entering Boston. And if there is a situation, you solve it,” Fraley said.
Boyajian and his colleague, Physician Assistant Ashley Kowtoniuk, use a zip code search to identify affiliated labs a patient can easily visit.
Once the patient’s blood test (for PSA testing) and patient’s questionnaire are in, the software automatically extracts the information and “knows” if the patient has a relapse.
It can also tell if the patient has significant symptoms.
Boyajian and Kowtoniuk can access the information from their computers wherever they are, contact the patient and schedule the follow-up visit with a doctor.
The clinic’s ability to keep patients on their follow-up schedule without interruption has been particularly helpful during the pandemic.
“It is software that helps us to triage patients. We are sitting in front of a computer. We can do our work from home. My daughters would tell you they have videos of me caring for patients at Disneyworld. It gives you the flexibility to practice wherever you are,” Boyajian said.
Patients enjoy the same flexibility. The clinic serves patients in Kazakhstan, the UAE and Bermuda, in addition to all New England and Florida states.
“Patients don’t want to leave the Dana Farber-Brigham and Women’s Center,” Boyajian said. “They feel like the doctors saved their lives and they want to stay attached to them for as long as possible.”
Boyajian understands that feeling well.
25 years ago, he was a leukemia patient at DFCI who received a life-saving bone marrow transplant. His relationship with the patients and doctors in the virtual clinic is personal.
He now hopes that virtual clinics can become a fixture in patient care for other diseases, including other cancers.
“We want to show other radiation oncologists that you can benefit from this. It’s not brain surgery, it’s just shifting the care model so we can treat more patients. We have the best doctors in the world here. And if we can show them more of these patients, then we’ve done our job.”
David Fraley gears up to ride his 13th Pan-Mass Challenge. He divides his time between Rhode Island and Wisconsin, where he can spend time with his granddaughter. He didn’t miss a single lab test during the pandemic and cheers Boyajian for a clinic that has allowed him to stay connected with his doctors in Massachusetts.
“Rich was way ahead of his time,” he said.
When asked if the virtual clinic detected “red flags”, Boyajian nodded.
“There are. My PSA was about the magic 2.0 level. I just had a PET scan and a prostate MRI in the last month. They are very careful. It’s a clean scan for now.”
That, Boyajian explains, is exactly how the clinic should work. If Fraley needs immediate attention, he can get it.
“Our access to care has grown by an average of 20% per year. We are treating more patients with prostate cancer than before the clinic existed.”
Boyajian, a six-year-old PMC rider, expects to be back on the bike (and in the ride) by 2022.
“I skipped a few years,” he explains with a laugh, “David has definitely outdone me. Next year I’ll be pedaling again.”