Practicing proximity for patient-centered care

New clinic locations in Ocala and The Villages are letting UF Health surgical specialists put their patients first.

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The specialists’ mission is to provide comprehensive care for complex or rare conditions whose treatment is less straightforward. Some, like esophageal cancer, typically occur in a small subset of the population, meaning physicians may not conduct procedures associated with the disease as frequently.

 This makes the accessibility to quality care imperative.

“Conditions like this are treated with fewer complications and better overall outcomes when patients are treated at high volume centers,” said Steven J. Hughes, MD, a professor and chief of surgical oncology at the UF College of Medicine.

“You can have a very rare, difficult to treat condition, and then come here and expect to have that taken care of,” Hughes said.

The addition of these locations is a symptom of the specialists’ commitment to a patient-centered approach, and considering multiple aspects of their care—like improving access to it.

For example, if Hughes drives down to Ocala once a week, he can see at least a dozen, if not two dozen people who would ordinarily be tasked with driving past Ocala, all the way to Gainesville.

“We’re getting to the point where surgical specialists have a four-day week presence in Ocala,” Hughes said. “And we’re able to take care of one another’s patients.”

Soon, it will be five.

“This isn’t fancy,” Hughes said. “This is about expertise and knowledge. It’s about the ability to have a meaningful visit with our patients.”

The sentiment is echoed by his colleagues.

“I know I and the other providers in my division share a passion for providing excellent colorectal care in North and Central Florida, including care for hemorrhoids, incontinence, inflammatory bowel disease, constipation, and cancer,” said Krista P. Terracina, MD, an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine.

Colorectal surgeons are often thought of as the people whose primary tasks are colon cancer surgeries; however, they also have experience and training in addressing a large number of problems many people don’t even realize there are solutions for, such as their incontinence and constipation, Terracina said.

“Many of our patients in Gainesville are traveling from all over the state to reach the kind of quality care we provide,” Terracina said. “We offer access to specialists that patients may not have locally.”

The Ocala clinic offers an on-site lab, and physicians can perform various minor procedures such as endoscopy and hemorrhoid banding. Patients can continue to get the same kind of quality surgical care as they would in UF Health’s Gainesville location.

They can also receive preoperative and postoperative check-ins closer to home, and go through follow-up appointments in an area that is more convenient for them, Terracina said.

Each of the clinics is taking precautions to reflect the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, ranging from monitoring the number of patients in the waiting room at a time and their ability to maintain social distancing to strategically scheduling how many patients are seen per day. 

All in all, the specialists look forward to providing their patients with care that is better tailored to their needs.

“I realized that I would see 20, 25 patients in my clinic once a week from these regions,” Hughes said. “And I thought, ‘This is crazy. Why don’t I drive down to see them?’” Hughes said.

Now, he does. He calls it a no-brainer.