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Dr Ruben Mesa Shares How Atrium Health Addresses Health Disparities in Rural, Minority Populations


Ruben A. Mesa, MD, president and executive director of Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center, discusses key challenges and opportunities for improving cancer care among rural and minority patients.

Significant gaps exist within cancer care, especially among patients living in rural areas or patients belonging to minority populations who have rare types of cancers. Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute (LCI) is a comprehensive cancer center with a strong focus on delivering care to underserved or underrepresented patients to improve value-based care.

Prompt access to care and building patient engagement and trust are the main drivers for expanding and improving care, says Ruben A. Mesa, MD, president and executive director of Atrium Health LCI and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.


Could you share insights into the challenges and opportunities for addressing health disparities, particularly in rural and minority populations, within a comprehensive cancer center?

As we think about health disparities, there are many drivers. But they start with really prompt access to care, as well as engagement and trust. We need individuals and populations to be able to trust in the health care that they can receive, to be able to be as proactive as we can in terms of a position in the community, to be able to have prevention, early detection, or screening when it is available, as well as prompt attention when there is a sign or a signal that a malignancy potentially could be present.

What we've learned is that the ability for individuals to get care close to home is critically important. The ability to travel to receive care at a great distance is a tremendous luxury in terms of impact on family members having to miss work that may or may not be feasible, in terms of concerns of financial burden of being able to access that care, and in terms of even just the transportation itself.

So, as a comprehensive cancer center, one of the things we've learned is we need to move beyond the ivory tower model where we're in a big city, a big multi-building cancer center, and expect everyone to drive from great distances or fly to receive all their care there. The ability to be able to detect, intervene, and care for the vast majority of things as close to people's homes as possible is crucially important. Yes, there may be some very intensive therapies that by necessity are only offered in limited spots. And then we can concentrate resources in terms of support, transportation resources, and others, to get individuals to be able to receive those. But hopefully, that's more the exception than the rule.

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