Healthcare access is one of the most pressing and important challenges in the modern world. High-quality care not only helps improve outcomes, but can also decrease the risk of some disorders, and early intervention in a medical problem can often prevent those problems from escalating.
The problem is that not everyone has equal access to care. Where you live, and the resources you have can make a huge difference in what kind of medical care you can access, how easy it is to access that care, and whether you have access to preventive screening and early detection services that can make a big difference in your medical outcomes.
Before Dr. Peter Brett moved to Saipan, attracted by the warm temperatures and the need for oncology services in the community, Saipan and the larger Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) communities, were spotty at best. Islanders often had to leave the country to seek cancer care, and that meant that people with cancer often weren’t diagnosed until the later stages of the disease.
Dr. Peter Brett had 27 years of experience in oncology practice before moving to Saipan and received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Stanford before completing his residency at Stanford University Hospital and Fellowship at the National Institutes of Health.
He was in the perfect position to start changing cancer care in Saipan for the better.
When he relocated to Saipan in 2019, Dr. Peter Brett started doing exactly that. There are two different sides to his cancer care initiatives, one is involved in directly helping people who are dealing with cancer, and the second is dedicated to helping with prevention, screening, and changing the risk factors for cancer in CNMI.
That started as soon as Dr. Peter Brett was on the ground. Even before he opened his Oncology Center in Saipan he was giving consultations and working to make sure people were well taken care of.
Opening the Oncology Center was a huge change for CNMI. Before 2019, people in the islands often needed to leave their homes to seek care elsewhere, sometimes in Thailand or Hawaii, and sometimes even traveling to the mainland USA to get the screening and treatments they needed.
That meant expensive travel and sometimes spending months abroad to receive adequate treatment. It also meant that there wasn’t a good system in place to help them catch cancer in the early stages. Not only was a large percentage of the population only getting their diagnosis in stages 3 and 4 but after symptoms get worse and treatment outcomes are likely to be worse as well.
Having a local oncology clinic like the Oncology Center makes it easier for patients to get the help they need and deserve sooner, while there are still more options and outcomes are likely to be better.
It also means that patients don’t have to travel as far to receive treatment. They can often stay home and have the comfort and support of friends and family around them while they deal with their diagnosis and treatment.
At the Oncology Center, Dr. Peter Brett and his team of other care professionals can offer cancer treatments including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and some cancer surgeries. For patients with more complex needs, the Oncology Center is also able to provide referrals to appropriate care providers elsewhere, to make sure their patients get the care they need as soon as possible.
In addition to the services offered by the Oncology Center, Dr. Peter Brett also pioneered the CARES program in CNMI and works with the Commonwealth Health Care Corporation (CHCC) to offer the highest quality care possible.
The CARES program, which stands for Cancer and Associated Risks Early Screening, offers no-cost cancer screening services to all CNMI residents. That’s critical because the population of the CNMI tends to be lower income as a group, which means that expensive services are often out of reach, even when they’re needed.
By offering no-cost cancer screening that can bill insurance, but never bills patients, the CARES program means that all residents of the islands can access early cancer screening and care. That’s critical with diseases like cancer where the outcome is likely to be better the sooner the cancer is spotted and treated.
For Dr. Peter Brett though, screening and treatment weren’t the only gaps in the CNMI. Information and awareness were also a big problem, with higher than average rates of cancer and people unaware of potential lifestyle risk factors or how to spot cancer for themselves.
To start spreading information and make it easier to people to avoid risk factors for cancer, and to learn the warning signs that are most important when it comes to common kinds of cancer, Dr. Peter Brett started “Doc Talks”. Doc Talks are a live-streamed service where Dr. Brett engaged directly with his community, answering their questions about cancer, informing them about the risks of regular alcohol and tobacco use, as well as the dangers of chewing betel nut – all of which are common in CNMI.
That three-pronged assault on cancer is making it easier and more affordable than ever for CNMI residents to get the cancer care they need.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Dr. Peter Brett is still in Saipan, still working to make cancer care better, and more affordable, and to make sure his community understands cancer and knows when and how they can get help.
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