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Networks extend care across the Bluegrass

Tim Mullett, MD, MBA, FACS, joined UK HealthCare in 1996, helping to form UK Markey Cancer Center’s first full thoracic oncology practice. Since 2015, Dr. Mullett has served as medical director for the UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate and Research Networks, which help ensure that high-quality cancer care is readily available to patients across the region.

We talked with Dr. Mullett about what inspires his work, the Networks’ impact on the region and his vision for growth in the future.

What inspires you as a physician? 

By working with patients in the early stages of this disease, I can give them their best chance to beat it. Seeing patients come back is truly inspirational, and seeing someone who is four, five or 10 years out from cancer surgery is pretty exciting.

The other thing that has been fascinating is the evolution of multidisciplinary care. Seeing patients progress through treatment with fewer side effects, better outcomes and longer, fuller lives has allowed me to see cancer care in the bigger picture.

How has the growth of Markey's Affiliate and Research Networks impacted Kentucky?

The Affiliate Network was started in 2006 with three affiliate programs. With Cheri Tolle’s leadership through the years, we have now grown to 20 programs. Since starting the Research Network with Kris Damron in 2014, we have extended Markey’s research to seven programs across the region.

Bringing these programs into our networks helps provide a blueprint of what a high-quality cancer program looks like in terms of early detection, precision medicine resources and assistance with treatment decisions. We are seeing that model embraced, allowing more programs to offer comprehensive care to patients close to home.

What does Commission on Cancer accreditation mean for patients?

In 2015, we made it mandatory for Affiliate Network programs to be CoC accredited. It gave us a reference point to measure programs, as the CoC is the gold standard of cancer accreditation.

We understand that not every cancer program is CoC accredited, and we want to help programs reach that goal. Once they have earned that accreditation, they are equipped to deliver their highest quality cancer care and become an Affiliate Network member.

What is your vision for Markey’s Affiliate and Research Networks over the next five years?

We represent more than a third of cancer cases diagnosed in Kentucky. There are specialty treatments here at Markey that are available because we are an NCI-designated cancer center, but I would like to extend that opportunity to our affiliates and their patients.

Our goal is to see the cancer burden in Kentucky reduced by 50 percent. We can achieve that through these networks and by developing early detection programs and changing the culture that has given Kentucky a cancer burden heavier than any other state. Over the next five years, we aim to expand Markey’s reach to as many patients as possible.

What steps are being taken to advance toward that goal?

Lung cancer is extremely prevalent in Kentucky. When we started this program, there were only five certified tobacco specialists across the state. Now there are 150 specialists serving areas from Pikeville to Paducah, with the majority belonging to members of our network. Continuing to grow this team of specialists will only help us detect lung cancer earlier and treat patients.

One other area that is changing dramatically is the world of precision medicine. By aligning with the ORIEN Network and Markey’s Molecular Tumor Board, network members are able to take advantage of the latest developments discovered for treatment in the precision medicine field.

What excites you most about leading these networks?

The opportunities that the networks present are so exciting. When I have the opportunity to train others, I am amplifying what I can do. Working with residents, fellows and students gives me the chance to extend my own work and cancer care.

By working with programs to create solutions to common problems, we can guide patients to the right place. If they need care close to home, we make it easy for them to get the care they need. If they need precision medicine or a specialty surgery, we want to be available to them. Working with Markey’s Affiliate and Research Networks gives me the opportunity to have the biggest impact on Kentucky’s cancer burden.

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