Ellen Miller Sonet: The Importance of Cancer Care Providers Informing Patients of Treatment Costs

Cancer patients are agreeing to treatment plans lacking a fundamental understanding of the impacts on their finances, explained Ellen Miller Sonet, MBA, JD, chief strategy and policy officer, CancerCare.

Why is it so important to communicate the financial burden of cancer treatment with patients?
The research that we’ve done suggests that patients don’t know what they’re in for, financially, when they’re making treatment decisions. Consider, for example, buying a car. Would you ever buy a car without knowing the price? Would you buy a refrigerator without knowing the price? Patients are signing on to treatment plans without understanding the financial consequences, and that’s just not right. Both ASCO and the academies of medicine have said that talking about cost is fundamental to shared decision making, high-quality cancer care, and a partnership around doing what’s best for the patient. These kinds of issues have to be explored before treatment decisions are made.

What are best practices for successfully communicating and assisting the patient with these burdens?
The team approach to cancer care is key to making sure that patients really understand the implications of treatment decisions. So, once a physician sees a patient, and they talk about a treatment plan, it’s then really important to sit down and understand how the patient can afford this treatment. We have seen practices where there is a team of navigators, nurses, or financial aid folks that come in and talk to the patients and take them through their co-pays, deductibles, and formulary issues, and help them understand what the impact of treatment will be on their finances.

If that isn’t done, then patients are blind-sided and often suffer the consequences for years. It takes a village. Cancer care is very complex. Patients are overwhelmed with the emotional, physical, spiritual, family, and financial aspects of being sick, and there are many resources that can help support patients on many levels. Patients need to know about them. Providers need to help them understand that these resources exist, and they can make the experience of having cancer less difficult for patients if they know about and avail themselves of these resources.
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