Clinician Support Tool for Discussions on Cancer Care Costs

The online tool includes worksheets for the most commonly used cancer treatment protocols that care providers can directly access through the electronic health record.

At the upcoming Quality Care Symposium, an annual meeting convened by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, researchers from the Group Health Research Institute will share results from a pilot study in 4 oncology clinics in an integrated delivery system that evaluated a tool meant to help clinicians address their patients’ cost concerns.

Developed as an online tool, the program includes worksheets for the most commonly used cancer treatment protocols that the care providers can directly access through the electronic health record, the abstract states. The detailed worksheet includes information on prices and codes for drugs, supportive medications, tests, and services that the patient may undergo during a typical treatment cycle. Most importantly, this information is patient-friendly and understandable to the lay person, the abstract claims. It does not, however, include information on patient cost sharing.

“With cancer treatment prices on the rise, it’s become increasingly challenging for patients to manage their personal finances,” said lead study author Nora B. Henrikson, PhD, MPH, a research associate at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington. “Since most doctors don’t know what various drugs and tests cost, this tool will allow them to have more productive conversations with their patients—and potentially alleviate some stress.”

Following trial launch, the authors surveyed participating care providers—mainly oncologists and nurses—and found that 33% of participants had used the cost sheets at least once a week, and the most appreciated features of the tool, as marked by the care providers, included:

· Access to cost information

· Treatment protocol-based layout

· Service of previously unmet patient needs

While 70% of survey participants claimed there was no negative impact of the tool on their workload, there were suggestions to include information on patient cost sharing, and the need to include more protocols on the worksheets. The participants also spoke to the value of the tool for their own clinic and for the healthcare system as a whole.

Based on the results of their study, the authors conclude that the pilot was feasible, built capacity to locate price data, and did not adversely impact staff workload. They identified the lack of personalized estimates of out-of-pocket charges as the biggest gap in the tool, due to the fact that patients’ insurance information is not accounted for.

Henrikson said that while oncologists participating in this pilot study offered information on price of drugs and services only if the subject came up during a conversation with the patients, she said that future research projects would proactively share the information with patients.

The abstract is due to be presented on Saturday, February 27, 2016, during a session on Cost, Value, and Policy in Quality at the meeting.