Cancer care in Penn Medicine’s Pavilion: Reimagined, revitalized, and inclusive

Fifty years ago the National Cancer Act was passed signified a revolution for the future of cancer care. As trailblazers, Penn Medicine and its Abramson Cancer Center fueled many transformative changes in the oncology space, which led to an upward trajectory for research and patient care.

But beyond the care itself, the physical space where care is given matters as well. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the reasons why the health care industry needs to be prepared to rapidly adapt to emerging needs, threats, and technology innovations – so a hospital designed to adapt with rapidly changing science, medicine, and patient care is incredibly important. This design approach was the foundation of Penn Medicine’s new Pavilion, which opens next month. When it comes to cancer care, efforts to enhance communication and support caregivers, along with patients, takes center stage.

The Pavilion is a state-of-the-art medical mecca that will connect patients with their families and medical teams in a whole new way. Whether in person or virtually, technology advancements will be included in every patient room.

For example, IRIS — a large smart TV and interactive care system located past the foot of each patient bed on the wall — not only provides access to entertainment, but access to climate and environment preferences, healthcare provider and appointment information, privacy controls, and more. The expanded technology advancements will make it possible for patients to feel better connected with loved ones, and it allows for caregivers to be more involved and supportive.

One of the most exciting features for patients with family caregivers at their side in the hospital is that IRIS allows caregivers to have an integral part in patient discussions, as they can see test results such as CAT scans and MRIs, and benefit from supportive educational material. For example, even basic information such as members of the health care team can be accessed, along with information on upcoming tests and procedures. IRIS technology is helpful for cancer caregiver involvement in treatment, from ensuring compliance with medications to providing beneficial social support — and at the Pavilion, this technology is found in every patient room.

penn patient room
Pavilion patient room rendering, with ample space for family members

In addition to IRIS, friends and family will be happy to find bigger rooms with spaces ready for caregivers. Each patient room includes comfortable furniture including pull-out beds that make it possible to get a decent night’s sleep. In addition, as families may have to face difficult conversations with medical teams, there are dedicated family rooms for meetings of this nature, where privacy is essential. There is also a new Family Caregiver Center at the connector level of the Pavilion to offer a space for respite for caregivers, as well as a dedicated satellite caregiver center on the 12th floor for oncology.

What’s more, the Pavilion further advances the care available to cancer patients.

“For the first time ever, and a rarity in the country, Penn will have a dedicated oncology intensive care unit (ICU), and it will be adjacent to our inpatient oncology unit on the same floor, which is an added convenience for patients and their medical teams,” said Lynn M. Schuchter, MD, chief of Hematology Oncology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Close access to acute care for critical oncology patient management has been reimagined, and is going to be transformative to their care.”

Cancer treatments by design are rough on the body in order to eradicate harmful tumor cells, and as a consequence, serious side effects can be common. Patients can become susceptible to infection which can lead to sepsis, they can experience neutropenia (decreased white blood cells), or suffer breathing issues. Therefore, critical care support with a dedicated oncology ICU allows care teams to respond quickly, recognize signs and symptoms, and get these acutely ill patients the medical attention they need in a timely fashion.

Specialized care for patients in the hospital can also be important for treatment. For example, in the case of CAR-T cell therapy — an FDA-approved personalized cell therapy treatment for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, created here at Penn — patients often require more careful monitoring, frequent collection and specialized testing of blood specimens, and access to the newest and latest treatments and imaging resources.

The Pavilion was also designed to bring research and clinical care together. In the center of a vibrant clinical and research campus, the Pavilion will be a centerpiece of Penn Medicine’s world-class expertise in bold approaches to treating diseases of all kinds — including cancer. Patients can be treated with CAR-T cells personalized just for them, in many cases, made right in Penn’s connected manufacturing facilities. What’s more, the Pavilion sets the stage for further groundbreaking research, especially with regards to CAR-T, as the technology advancements and resources allow for the ability to study other forms of cancers where there is high unmet medical need.

“Because cancer and patient care change rapidly we must adapt and change with it,” said Kristen Maloney, MSN, RN, clinical director of Oncology Nursing at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, who started as an oncology nurse at Penn 16 years ago. “The Pavilion, with its many enhancements, sets Penn apart as an innovator in patient care and caregiver support with a design for change.”