Interview with John Conway of Cancer Treatment Centers of America

The following interview  with John Conway, Senior Vice President New Market and Business Development, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, originally appeared in Volume 6, Issue 23 of Medical Travel Today, a free online newsletter covering the business side of domestic and international medical travel.

Since 1988, Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), a national network of fully accredited cancer hospitals, has been helping patients to win the fight against cancer using advanced medical technology and a personalized approach.  CTCA has earned Full Standards Compliance from the Joint Commission, and is recognition for delivering high-quality care and exceeding patient safety standards from numerous renowned healthcare organizations, such as the Association of Community Cancer Centers and the American College of Radiology.

Each hospital inn the CTCA network provides state-of-the-art cancer treatment by a dedicated team of oncologists, surgeons and other health experts. Furthermore, CTCA offers patients and their family a friendly and welcoming environment.

Medical Travel Today (MTT): When we spoke with Steve Bonner last year, he indicated that the average CTCA patient travels 514 miles one way to reach you for care.  Is that distance about the same or are you seeing patients from even further afield?

John Conway (JC): That number isn’t updated regularly but I can tell you this:  it’s both more and less.

I’ll explain. In the middle of August this year we opened our fifth full service hospital in Georgia. As a result, patients in the southeast US now travel significantly less to access our care. We’re now two months into operating that facility, and the patient demand is about double what we anticipated. It’s really pushed us -- but fortunately, as we mature as an organization, we get better and better at opening facilities and adjusting as needed.

This is a bit off the question but I want to mention that we have an internal commitment to having no less than 30 percent of the stakeholders — our term for employees — at any new facility come from our existing organization. This helps to ensure that we consistently fulfill the CTCA brand promise. Patients coming to any facility, new or established, are assured they’ll get our full complement of services, experience the true and full CTCA culture, and so forth.

We’re now two months into full operation in Atlanta, at two times the planned level of demand, and thrilled. So are our patients. Anyone in the southeast who might have previously gone to Philadelphia or Tulsa for example, can now make a much shorter journey to Atlanta and get the same quality of care. So in that way, the distance some people are traveling to see us is definitely less.

However, at the same time we’re also seeing an increasing interest in our services from patients outside the US. And the areas we’re pulling from vary dramatically.  We have a strong interest from western Canada for our Phoenix facility. We also have an interesting pipeline of Alaskans seeking care in Tulsa.
Our Caribbean outreach has also increased…from all the islands…many of those folks are also going to Tulsa.

So, yes, patients continue to come from great distances but the distance being traveled is less owing to new facilities.

MTT: I’m curious. What’s attracting the Alaskan and Caribbean patients to Tulsa versus your other locations?

JC:Word of mouth. In the Caribbean, it started with one patient from the Bahamas who had a very positive experience in Tulsa. That led to our being introduced to an insurance network there. That then led to us attending various medical conferences and getting introduced to other insurance networks. That one patient gave us the regional presence and awareness we needed. 

The story is largely the same in Alaska. We treated an individual who returned home with a positive outcome. As it turns out, benefit plans are actually quite strong in Alaska. That patient had a good outcome, the word spread, we hit the radar, and then ended up at the top of the list for care options.

Cancer patients can be huge drivers of advocacy. Many patients recover and then work within their local cancer communities — support groups and such — and spread the word.

Now, I make this next point with the maximum amount of respect. There are a number of major national cancer centers that we all know of  but are sometimes difficult for a patient to get into.  Our speed to care is a huge differentiator.  A lot of patients with advanced disease simply can’t wait. In addition, at those centers many advanced patients are frequently only considered as they do or don’t fit a clinical trial. If they don’t fit, they’re essentially told to seek other options.

That’s where we’re different. We don’t consider a patient based on trial fit, but on our ability to treat their cancer and help in any way we can.

I personally get a lot of queries from both facilitators and physicians seeking options outside traditional big name centers for those reasons. Our speed to care and  model of care work…they make a difference.

MTT: Beyond patient referrals and word of mouth, are there other things you’re doing to attract international patients?

JC: As we’ve matured as an organization we’ve extended our reach so the interest is definitely growing. I also believe that access to information on the web is putting people in touch with more options.

In addition, we are doing some very specific outreach.  Our western operation in Arizona has really strengthened the outreach in western Canada. Much of the effort is aimed at the various communities – patient groups, benefits communities, physicians, etc.

We’re also making a concerted effort in Mexico with media presence and outreach in the business and patient communities. In addition, we’re making a significant internal effort to make sure that we are ready to serve the population in their language and in a way that aligns with their culture and ways that they access care.

We’ve also entered into a number of formal partnerships in Mexico. We have just recently  hosted an oncology summit in Guadalajara. Things like that raise awareness, expand our network, and typically lead to more patients learning of our services.

MTT: Those efforts all relate to bring patients to the US. Are you looking at establishing points of care outside the US?

JC: We’re currently engaged in a review of the needs for cancer care in Asia.  We’re very early in the effort, but Asia’s need for care and population represents a n opportunity to expand and serve many more patients that need options.

MTT: Asia’s a pretty big nut to crack. Are there specific countries or regions you’re looking at?

JC: We actually just narrowed our list down to four potential countries and we have people in each of those countries doing research. The next thing we’ll do is evaluate how people access care and examining what they’re not getting and how we might fill that need.

MTT: Does that mean by building a facility or taking on a partner?

JC: We’re not sure yet. Again, we’re at the very beginning of a long due diligence process. If it’s determined a facility is the right solution, we’ll pursue it.

As for partners, we would prefer to be our own entity. Our experience to date shows that we work better, more efficiently when we work independently doing what we know.

About John Conway

John Conway joined Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in 2007 with initial responsibility for strategic relationships with audiences including insurance, employer, industry influencer, governmental and regulatory organizations and individuals. Consistent with the mission of CTCA, Mr. Conway helps create access to treatment for individuals through the expansion of existing, and the creation of new, relationships. Since that time Mr. Conway has expanded his role to include leadership of the Business Development and Growth Strategy functions. In 2010, he assumed an interim role as the Chief Marketing Officer of the organization.

Prior to joining CTCA, Mr. Conway’s experience was focused in the insurance industry over 26 years spent at AON Corporation and Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), the parent organization of several Blue Cross Blue Shield plans. At AON, John began as a management trainee at Combined Insurance company and progressed through many roles, primarily leading operational entities; ultimately leading all US and Canadian operations for an AON subsidiary.

Mr. Conway joined HCSC in 1997 to lead a subsidiary company, Hallmark Services Corporation, through a turn-around period. Hallmark provides full service operational support for the individual health businesses of certain Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans. He added an HCSC role in 2005 when the Senior Market Operations came under his responsibility, creating an operational portfolio approaching $2 billion in annual business. Immediately prior to joining CTCA, Mr. Conway was also leading the BCBS-IL Consumer Markets division on an interim basis.

For more information

-  Medical Travel Today

- Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA)

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