Smilow climbs in rankings

Yale’s Smilow Cancer Center was ranked the 35th best cancer hospital nationwide by the U.S. News and World Report.
Yale’s Smilow Cancer Center was ranked the 35th best cancer hospital nationwide by the U.S. News and World Report. Photo by Kamaria Greenfield.

Though only 3 years old, the Smilow Cancer Center at Yale is moving up the rankings as one of the best in the nation.

In its 2012–’13 publication of the 900 best cancer hospitals in the United States, U.S. News and World Report ranked Smilow 35th. Oncologists at Smilow said there are core aspects of the facility — such as its spacious interior layout, comprehensive care services and leading research through the University — that distinguish it from other cancer hospitals and merit it a much higher ranking than 35th.

Physician in Chief Thomas Lynch ’82 MED ’86 said he is “not at all satisfied with 35,” and that his goal is for Smilow to be recognized as one of the top five hospitals in the United States. Still, given the hospital’s recent opening, he said he considers this national recognition a “terrific accomplishment.”

Lynch said he thinks the main factor behind Smilow’s success is the relationship between the hospital’s clinical care and the University’s research. Pharmacology professor Roy Herbst ’84 GRD ’84 instituted the BATTLE program at Smilow, which biopsies patients with advanced lung cancer and sequences the genes of the tumor so that oncologists can offer a more personalized treatment plan to the patient. The best way to treat lung cancer is to introduce “the right drug into the right patient at the right time,” which requires analyzing fresh tumor tissue and understanding what is driving the cancer, Herbst said.

He added that while other hospitals also use BATTLE or similar programs, Yale has most effectively applied current research to the development of creative technologies and treatment plans.

“All the components have always been present — a great medical school, great basic science, great clinical care — but Smilow brings together these programs and now has a true focus on comprehensive, translational critical care in real time,” Herbst said. “Cancer is a tough disease, and in this day and age we have to be creative and take the personalized medicine approach.”

Smilow has been able to marry clinical care with scientific research because Yale attracts the best doctors and nurses to its facilities, Lynch said. Herbst also said he credits the University atmosphere for some of Smilow’s success, since the academic environment encourages scientific inquiry.

While Smilow’s young age has made it hard for the hospital to establish a national reputation, its more recent construction can also be an advantage.

The building’s design — which features 14 floors of mostly single rooms -— follows a recent trend in hospital construction that emphasizes increased personal space for patients, Lynch said. The building itself is a “breakthrough as a cancer hospital” because its design helps reduce hospital-borne infections and improves the patient’s and family’s experiences, he added.

“We have a remarkable physical facility, and the benefit is that we’re the most recently built,” Lynch said. “Smilow follows the trend towards single rooms and amenities for patients and families, which was never appreciated in hospital construction before.”

While both Lynch and Herbst said they are proud of Smilow for garnering national recognition in only a few years, they added that they are determined to continue improving the cancer center.

Every patient is sent a survey to comment on his or her experience at Smilow, and every month, hospital administration pools the data from these responses to look for opportunities for improvement, Lynch said, adding that the hospital has become more “patient-focused” as a result. Herbst said he foresees that Smilow will “climb up in the numbers every year,” especially as the hospital attracts more patients from Boston, New York, other states and even other countries.

“New Haven is not Boston or New York, so people come to Smilow because we have a product they want — better hope and better care,” he said.

Smilow opened on Oct. 22, 2009.

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