The oncology treatment landscape is continuously shifting. Along with new discoveries and innovations consistently popping up, overarching trends in the health care industry are bound to affect the way we address cancer treatment.
At this year’s annual meeting of the Association of Community Cancer Centers, Lindsay Conway, managing director and researcher for The Advisory Board Company in Washington, D.C., highlighted five key trends impacting the health care industry and what effects they will have on cancer treatment.
Reimbursement and reform are at a turning point. Cutting costs while improving care quality is one of today’s hot-ticket issues. And the enhanced focus on value-based care in place of traditional fee-for-service reimbursement affects all specialties – especially oncology. The Oncology Care Model and Oncology Medical Home are two significant initiatives in recent years that aim to eliminate unnecessary costs by providing sophisticated coordination and care quality. With reimbursements linked to outcomes in the new health care ecosystem, providers need to ask themselves how they can ensure patients receive the best possible care.
Enhanced care navigation will be necessary as cancer patient comorbidities increase. Given the anticipated “Cancer Tsunami” as baby boomers age, there will be a more significant number of cancer patients dealing with comorbidities. In her address, Conway cited a statistic stating, “Roughly 22 percent of Medicaid patients are also dealing with ailments like diabetes, COPD, and heart disease.”
Cancer patients with comorbidities often have a lower survival rate, and treating cancer alone is tough enough – when combined with other illnesses, patients are at a much higher risk for complications. That demands that all involved in the care team are on the same page and communicate throughout the process for the benefit of the patient.
The rise of telehealth in cancer care. Telehealth allows patients to take more control of their own treatment by utilizing apps and personalized technology to monitor their progress and make important care decisions. It also improves access to care for patients that are either homebound or live in areas where accessibility is an issue.
Oncology patients need to have clear, consistent communication with their caregivers. Telehealth gives them myriad opportunities to keep these channels open and active. It is also cost-effective, removing the need for patients to visit their oncologist for routine check-ins.
Patients are acting more and more like consumers. With the wealth of information available at the click of a button, patients can make more informed choices when it comes to where they are treated and who they receive care from. Opinions and reviews hold a significant amount of power over the physician/patient relationship. A single negative review can often determine whether a patient gives a provider a chance or not, meaning high-quality patient engagement is more important than ever.
Further, balancing costs and outcomes is not only important for providers, but for patients as well. With the uncertainty that a cancer diagnosis brings, patients want to ensure that they receive the best possible care. Oncology professionals would do well to be as transparent as possible and work to understand what people look for in a potential treatment provider.
Navigating precision medicine. Conway highlighted three primary challenges that oncology care providers will continue to face as precision medicine becomes an ever-more prevalent part of the health care ecosystem:
- How to make sense of new developments in precision medicine
- How to prioritize investments in new medical equipment and facilities
- How to operationalize approaches for ongoing, up-to-date education
Precision medicine brings an intimate focus on the individual to treatment since variations in genetics and lifestyle determine the best care path for the patient’s specific situation. Cancer is a genetic disease, so its treatment is prime ground for implementing precision practices. Every type of cancer is governed by different genetic changes. Therefore, as we learn more about what causes cancer and how to treat its various mutations, precision medicine treatments will become ever more valuable in helping patients achieve the best possible outcomes.
Healthcare is constantly changing, and all those in oncology should keep up with evolving best practices, despite having very busy schedules. It’s not just about having the right technology or methods, though. Having the right attitude is just as important for better clinical outcomes, as well as better results for providers. And a mindset that is open to change will make it easier to adapt to whatever trends crop up in the future.