“Nothing takes you out of your game like being told you have cancer,” said Louis Potters, MD, Northwell Health’s chair of radiation medicine, and deputy physician-in-chief and director radiation oncology of the Northwell Cancer Institute. “It is all-encompassing. No matter your age, sex, socio-economic background, ethnicity or education level, a cancer diagnosis brings fear to all. What matters most is trust. And patients trust a cancer program that offers the most appropriate, cutting-edge care.”
There are not many universals in life, according Dr. Potters — but a cancer diagnosis is one of them. It is a dividing line, and what happens next is all that matters. That’s why he is so passionate about Northwell’s cancer care.
“Our Cancer Institute sees more patients every year than almost any other cancer program in the region,” he said. “Under the tent of the recently relaunched Cancer Institute, we have the opportunity to consolidate and enhance multidisciplinary cancer care programs across the health system’s geographic area — and locally, where patients live, so they can receive the very best cancer care without traveling.
“People who have experienced cancer care at Northwell understand the benefits,” he added, citing focus-group research that showed health system patients recognize the high level of care they received and are grateful for it.
“Much of that was based on the relationship the patient had with an individual physician,” Dr. Potters said. Undergirding that is Northwell’s holistic cancer approach, with high-quality medical care available hand-in-glove with advanced cancer care.
“Because of the health system’s size and its expertise in so many areas, there is little we cannot treat,” he said. “We coordinate care through patient navigators, advanced practice practitioners and social workers — all of whom assist patients with every aspect of their care,” he said. “Patients experience something special when they turn to us.”
When it comes to radiation medicine, Dr. Potters is equally bullish on the care of his program. “We have one of the largest and most successful radiation oncology programs in the region and all the latest technology. To use the cliché, we have all the tools in the tool box to develop a truly personalized treatment approach for each patient.”
Yet he cautioned that tools and technology are not synonymous with superior cancer care or positive outcomes.
“We don’t just use a tool because we have it,” Dr. Potters said, mentioning a radiation medicine system that is marketed extensively in metro New York. “It may be the right tool sometimes, but it’s not the right tool all the time. And in many cases, it’s not the most appropriate option.”
Northwell’s investment in multiple technologies means that patients have access to treatments that reduce radiation exposure, are delivered quicker and offer results sooner than at other facilities.
“Everyone is different,” Dr. Potters said. “Each patient has different needs. We offer smarter radiation oncology and smarter cancer care. That is what the Cancer Institute is invested in and has developed.”
Smarter radiation medicine means standardized care across the health system. “A patient in any Northwell radiation facility can expect equal quality of care, whether it’s at Phelps or Northern Westchester hospitals, Imbert Cancer Center in Bay Shore or at the Center for Advanced Medicine in Lake Success,” Dr. Potters said. He added that cancer specialists conduct peer reviews of all patients in order to reach consensus on treatment and radiation dose plans and ensure the best course of action for each individual.
“Think of it as having the entire department review the care of all our patients. This is unique to Northwell and to our Department of Radiation Medicine,” Dr. Potter said. “And the fact that modifications are suggested as often as 20 percent or more of the time means that every patient we treat can be comforted to know that they are receiving the most appropriate care possible.”
Another Cancer Institute differentiator is its depth of ancillary services to address comorbidities and all aspects of care.
“We have social workers who specialize in assisting patients with anxiety, we have staff members who can coordinate home care, we have physical therapists and occupational therapists who can help patients who may have trouble swallowing or speaking, and cancer-specific dieticians who structure diets for patients who may be impacted by the disease itself or by treatment. We also offer mindfulness, meditation, reiki and tai chi to our patients free of charge.”
Part of the Cancer Institute’s role is the continued education of patients about their illness, treatment options and the effectiveness of those options in light of their disease and their personal goals. The physician and the care team talk through diagnoses and treatments, and provide video and other educational material to help patients and family members understand the process. Clinical trials, when appropriate, are another way to offer novel treatment approaches and to advance the collective understanding of cancer.
“It’s a holistic approach to the person who is experiencing cancer. We are not disease-focused, but patient-focused,” Dr. Potters said. “One of the things that sets our health system apart is that we have all the necessary capabilities at our fingertips — and that we use those resources to make the patient care and experience extraordinary.”