Mobile Chemo Unit Brings Lifesaving Treatments Closer to Home

Published on 18 December 2020

When Allison Braden, B.S. ’04, Pharm.D. ’05, became the director of pharmacy services at Cancer Care Specialists of Illinois, she grew concerned about the number of patients who missed their appointments for chemotherapy treatments. These missed appointments were resulting in wasted medication and fewer treatments for the patients. To solve the problem, Braden created the first mobile chemotherapy unit in Illinois to bring therapeutics closer to the patients who need them.

“Intravenous chemotherapy drugs have a short shelf life,” Braden explained. “Once the medication is mixed, you have to administer it within a short period of time or it can’t be used. These medications are very expensive, so we were losing thousands of dollars every year on medications that were mixed but not used by patients who missed their appointments. The wasted doses also meant that the cancer patients who relied on these medications weren’t getting the doses they needed. I knew there had to be a way to solve both problems.”

Braden presented her idea to James Wade III, M.D., founder of Cancer Care Specialists. When she explained how a mobile unit would both improve patient care and save money, he approved her plan to commission a custom-built truck to serve as a mobile chemo unit. Braden found a company in Colorado who could build the truck and worked closely with the company to make sure it had the right equipment to compound medicine on site.

The mobile chemo unit is operated by two pharmacy technicians and features an industry-compliant mixing room as well as a fully functional biosafety cabinet. The unit is based out of Cancer Care Specialists’ main clinic in Effingham, Illinois. It travels on Mondays to Clay County Hospital Medical Clinic in Flora, Illinois, and on Tuesdays the unit is stationed at Fairfield Memorial Hospital’s Medical Arts Complex in Fairfield, Illinois. On Wednesdays the unit visits HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital Specialty Clinic in Breese, Illinois, and on Thursdays it travels to Fayette County Hospital in Vandalia, Illinois. Through the unit’s placement at clinics throughout Illinois, cancer patients living in rural areas have more convenient access to their medication, and Braden notes that the impact has been enormous.

“Our clinic is one of the largest cancer care facilities in the state of Illinois, and the mobile unit serves over 100 patients per week,” Braden stated. “Although we’re based in Effingham, we treat patients across rural Illinois. Many of our patients live three to four hours away from the nearest brick-and-mortar cancer treatment center, and when you’re getting chemotherapy treatments once a week or more, that’s a lot of driving. Our mobile unit helps to reduce those commute times so patients can get the care they need and increases access to more medications. Additionally, we encourage our patients to participate in clinical trials designed to provide a larger variety of cancer treatment options, and the mobile chemo unit has made it easier for those patients to participate in trials closer to home.”

The program has been so successful that a second mobile unit is currently being created to serve additional patients and help Cancer Care Specialists achieve its mission is to bring cancer treatments to the residents of rural Illinois.

Braden says she is delighted that the mobile unit has more than paid for itself by reducing the costs associated with wasted medication, and she notes she’s even more thrilled to see how the mobile chemo unit is improving patients’ lives.

“What motivated me to start this project was the thought that if my mom or dad were going through chemotherapy treatments, I wouldn’t want them to have to drive three or four hours from home every time they needed their medication,” Braden explained. “That’s how I’ve always approached patient care. I imagine how I would feel if someone I loved was a patient and how I would want them to be treated. Throughout my career, I’ve looked for ways to help all of my patients get the best care possible.” 

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