Group Medicine

UTMG expands its offering of surgical services and specialties.

photograph by Monkeybusiness Images |

Things are looking up for the Bluff City’s Univer-
sity of Tennessee Medical Group (UTMG), which has recently improved its department of surgery with the hiring of several surgeons that specialize in surgical oncology and minimally invasive surgery.

In addition to the recent hires, UTMG has heightened its surgical procedures in the two aforementioned divisions, offering new practices that few if any other medical establishments in the city do presently.  

One of the practices is hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). Offered within the surgical oncology division of the department, HIPEC is a heated, sterilized chemotherapy solution that’s delivered directly to the abdomen during surgery.

Dr. Martin Fleming, UTMG’s division chief of surgical oncology, says the HIPEC surgery is the new frontier in the care of patients with abdominal cancers.

“This is one of several initiatives to raise the level of care and the quality of treatments that we offer cancer patients,” Fleming says. “There are certain groups of cancer patients who have tumors in their abdomen but nowhere else in their body. The rest of their body is fine, but the amount of cancer they have in their abdomen is so large that they run into problems that can [become] life-threatening complications from having the tumor.”

Fleming said the HIPEC procedure can take anywhere from eight to 12 hours to complete. A large portion of the time is invested into removing visible tumors from the abdomen, inserting chemotherapy to help kill any remaining cancer cells, and subsequently flushing it out of the stomach.

Fleming, who has helped provide the HIPEC procedure to more than 10 patients this year, says he’s happy that Memphians can finally receive the treatment they need without traveling to other states.  

“Before this, we had several patients a year that would have to leave Memphis for their care, and the closest place in the U.S. doing HIPEC surgery was in North Carolina,” Fleming says. “When patients have to leave their home to get the treatment they need, it’s not good. We’re determined to make sure that patients won’t have to leave Memphis to get the care they need.”

Not ceasing with the HIPEC procedure, UTMG has improved its division of minimally invasive surgery, which is used for medical operations such as bowel resection, anti-reflux surgery, and incisional hernia repair.

Unlike traditional open surgery, smaller incisions are made to the body during minimally invasive surgery. As a result of the procedure, patients normally suffer less pain, fewer scars, and recover more quickly than they would from open surgery.

New physicians hired within UTMG’s minimally invasive surgery division specialize in minimizing the size of incisions made to the body during surgical procedures. Prior to this, surgeons performing the procedure had to make large incisions to the body, oftentimes more than a foot long.

Although other medical clinics within the city implement the minimally invasive surgery, Dr. Benjamin Powell says UTMG is the only establishment currently performing the minimally invasive esophagectomy procedure. Some of UTMG’s new surgeons specialize in performing the procedure, which is primarily for individuals with esophageal cancer and need their esophagus removed.

“I think it’s great that we’re able to offer new innovative procedures for our patients that can minimize their pain as well as get them back to [their] normal daily activities a lot faster,” says Powell, a surgeon who specializes in minimally invasive procedures.

UTMG president Dr. J. Lacey Smith says the organization is adapting to the recent changes regarding health insurance. Smith says he sees the “Obamacare” healthcare plan benefitting UTMG significantly.

“Historically, UTMG has had the most experience of any practice in this region with indigent and self-pay patients; any payment reform that reduces that burden potentially will be to our benefit,” Smith says. “We believe that Memphis will continue to develop select enterprises and medical care ‘must-haves.’ We intend to offer, with leadership from the university and partners, our share of select and specialized needs.” 

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