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Roswell Park Cancer Institute will become partners with a group of private cancer specialists to provide services to patients in the region.

The Community Cancer Network is aimed at making therapies at the cancer center more accessible to patients and integrating private physicians into an institution that in years past relied on an in-house staff.

"All network members, wherever they are located, will have access to the knowledge, expertise, second opinions and advanced treatment options available at Roswell Park Cancer Institute," said Dr. David Hohn, president and chief executive officer of the cancer center.

Gov. Pataki last year signed legislation to transform the state institution into a quasi-public entity called a public-benefit corporation. The change gives Roswell Park greater management flexibility, allowing it to enter into the sort of agreements with other health-care organizations that private hospitals routinely do today.

The network consists of 33 oncologists and radiation therapists from two medical groups -- Buffalo Medical Group in Buffalo and Williamsville and Century Medical Associates in Williamsville. The physicians approached Roswell Park hopeful that a closer arrangement would make it easier for their patients to gain access to investigational treatments and such sophisticated services as bone marrow transplantation.

Officials at Roswell Park said the cancer center saw the network as an opportunity to move beyond the institute's walls and into the community.

"This is long overdue," said Dr. Richard G. Cooper, an oncologist at the Buffalo Medical Group, the area's largest group medical practice.

Patients of private physicians can obtain the investigational treatments found at comprehensive cancer centers, but it requires that they appeal to the drug manufacturers or seek an official "compassionate release" from the institutions.

"It's a long process," said Cooper. "We expect that by forming this network, our patients will have access to the newest advances in anti-cancer therapy."

The network may offer other advantages, officials said.

It may make health insurance companies more receptive to covering services provided at the cancer center, which has increasingly found itself excluded from health plans except for a limited number of specialized services.

The network, which also will include physicians from the institute's departments of medicine and radiation therapy, will also establish common treatment standards, measure the outcomes of care and track patients by computer. For instance, it's planned that information about patients would be available instantly to emergency room physicians.

"We expect to cut down on duplication of services, lower costs and improve care," Cooper said.

The two medical groups represent about 25 percent of the cancer specialists in Western New York and northwest Pennsylvania, the area from which doctors here draw patients. It is possible that other physicians may join the network in the future.

"How big we become depends on how well the idea succeeds," Cooper said. "In a way, this is like a pilot study."

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