Placing the Patient at the Center of Lung Cancer Care


Vinod Jona, MD
McLeod Pulmonary and
Critical Care Associates

Nearly seven years ago, McLeod Health made the decision to establish a Lung Cancer Screening Program to detect lung cancer earlier and save lives through the use of low-dose lung CT scans. Since then, we have expanded our program to include three dedicated nurse navigators, robotic-assisted thoracic oncology surgery, molecular targeted therapy and stereotactic body radiation therapy.

Recently, we established the McLeod Lung Nodule Clinic to evaluate and monitor those patients who have been screened for lung cancer and a pulmonary nodule was detected or those who had a nodule found incidentally as a result of a lung CT scan after a car accident, pneumonia or injury. This clinic enables us to determine the patient’s risk of developing lung cancer and ensure they receive high quality care and follow the evidence-based guidelines.

Once pulmonary nodules are discovered, the patients are referred for specialty care. Our main goal of developing the lung nodule clinic was to improve the quality of care with minimal resources and to create a model that could be spread across our McLeod Health system. On average, it was taking 44 days for a patient to be seen in the specialty clinic after a nodule diagnosis and approximately 112 days for a care plan to be developed. The multidisciplinary lung nodule clinic was designed to decrease this time significantly. The goal of the lung nodule clinic is to improve access, efficiency, effectiveness and cost of care.

Hallmarks of the McLeod Lung Nodule Program include:

  • Prompt scheduling of initial visit
  • On-site Radiologist with same day interpretation
  • Timely assessment, diagnosis and recommendations
  • Management of follow-up visits
  • Coordination of care with multiple specialists
  • Ongoing communication with referring physicians
  • Patient education

Each of our patients receive complete testing and consultation with a physician to determine the best course of action for them, all in one visit. This simplifies things for our patients while maximizing early detection of disease and minimizing unnecessary medical or surgical procedures.

Any lung nodule patient who  is referred to our program is first evaluated by the Lung Nodule Clinic Nurse Navigator Ainsleigh Brown who reviews their history and CT scans. Their initial evaluation in the Lung Nodule Clinic also includes:

  • Assessment by a Nurse Navigator
  • Examination by a Pulmonologist (lung specialist)
  • Diagnostic imaging if required along with a breathing test
  • Development of a plan for follow-up or treatment

In addition to Brown, our patients also have access to two other specially trained nurse navigators: Beth Epps, our Lung Cancer Nurse Navigator and Amy Perugini, our Lung Cancer Screening Navigator. These three McLeod Nurse Navigators guide patients through the often complicated process of their medical care from initial screening and detection, to diagnosis and treatment, and on through to recovery and rehabilitation.

At the center of any cancer program is the patient. Understanding that decisions are best made when the patient and family are involved, we now offer multi-disciplinary rounds which include the patient. As part of her role, Brown brings the patient’s medical information to the lung multidisciplinary rounds and the patient is encouraged to attend through a virtual platform.

We invite our lung nodule patients to participate in the multi-disciplinary rounds so they can receive guidance not only from a pulmonologist and nurse practitioner but also a radiologist, thoracic surgeon, radiation oncologist and medical oncologist before they may ever be diagnosed with lung cancer.

This team of cancer care specialists (pulmonologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, thoracic surgeons, medical internists, pharmacists, pathologists, and others) meet every other week at McLeod with the lung nodule patients who could potentially have cancer to design an individualized treatment plan to meet their particular medical needs.

During the meeting, physicians review the pertinent history, imaging scans, diagnostic studies, and pathology, and develop a plan appropriate for the patient.

The patient benefits by having easy access to all of these experts at one time as well as the opportunity to ask questions. This close communication enhances the patient’s care and the management of their disease. The patient remains at the center of what we do, and this team mindset gives us an opportunity to deliver the most advanced, effective treatment available to patients diagnosed with lung cancer.

To further ensure the best outcomes for lung cancer patients in the region, McLeod offers the latest technology and advancements to treat this disease which includes:

  • Advanced Bronchoscopy. Endobronchial Ultrasound Bronchoscopy or EBUS, a minimally invasive means to see beyond the bronchial wall to diseased tissue, lymph nodes, or lesions outside of the bronchial airway as well as Navigational Bronchoscopy for difficult to reach lesions.
  • Robotic surgical procedures. This allows the patient to have a faster recovery with less pain and return to work and their daily lives sooner than if they would have undergone a thoracotomy.
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy, a procedure designed to treat cancer by interrupting unique molecular markers or abnormalities that drive cancer growth. This type of targeted therapy deploys drugs that interfere with specific biochemical pathways that lead to the growth and spread of certain kinds of cancer.
  • Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) for the treatment of lung cancer in the medically-inoperable patient. The advantages of SBRT are high-dose delivery, reduced treatment time, minimal radiation exposure, and decreased adverse effects.

For more information on the McLeod Lung Cancer Screening Program, please call (843) 777-5953. To contact the McLeod Lung Nodule Clinic, please call (843) 777-7878.

Dr. Vinod K. Jona joined the medical staff of McLeod Health in 2001 and has been instrumental in the expansion of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine programs.

Dr. Jona currently serves as Chief of Medical Staff for McLeod Regional Medical Center. Additionally, Dr. Jona is Co-Chair of the McLeod Healthy Lungs Initiative Program. As a physician with multiple board certifications, Dr. Jona provides care and treatment to patients with lung conditions including COPD, asthma, lung cancer, interstitial lung disease, shortness of breath and cough as well as patients with sleep apnea, insomnia and narcolepsy. He cares for patients at McLeod Pulmonary and Critical Care Associates.