Dr Emily Touloukian: The Power of Patient Advocacy in Community Oncology

Emily Touloukian, DO, medical oncologist, practice president, and managing partner at Coastal Cancer Center, discusses the importance of patient advocacy when it comes to current issues such as drug shortages and mail order restrictions.

The Community Oncology Alliance (COA) Patient Advocacy Network addresses both the short- and long-term policy issues that have resulted in increased cost of care and treatment delays, says Emily Touloukian, DO, medical oncologist, practice president, and managing partner at Coastal Cancer Center.


What should be some top priorities in the advocacy space right now?

With respect to community oncology, there's so many advocacy priorities that we can put out there: PBM [pharmacy benefit manager] legislation, some of the things that we've talked about for years—prior authorization, step therapy, these sorts of things. I think that it's really important to make sure that we focus on issues when we're advocating. I think it's easy to get focused on the legislation, but I think going in with a plan and ask when you're being an advocate is really important. So, COA really helps us to be effective advocates in providing us the background when we go in for these specific talks with legislators. They help us to set up the meetings, give us the background, and the specific ask that we want to walk out of that meeting with the legislator wanting to move forward with.

As medical cochair for the COA Patient Advocacy Network, can you also discuss the importance of patient advocacy in light of the current ongoing drug shortages and the restrictions on mail-order pharmacy?

Patients are really the heart of everything we do at COA. As such, the COA Patient Advocacy Network cannot be emphasized enough. The current issues with drug shortages and the restrictions that have been levied on practices mailing prescriptions have really directly and profoundly impacted our patients. Having patients and their family members share those additional burdens that they've created as a result of all of these policies, and the treatment delays that have occurred as a result, with their legislators is a really impactful and powerful way to illustrate how essential it is that we address these topics. The COA Patient Advocacy Network helps us to facilitate that.

Several hot-button issues have been in the spotlight this year, including PBMs, prior authorization, and the Change Healthcare hack. Can you address short- and long-term priorities for the oncology space considering these controversies?

These are our hot-button issues for a reason, right? These are the things that keep community oncologists up at night. The common thread there that carries through all of these issues is that they can have a huge impact on the ability of patients to get timely access to lifesaving medications. That's really our short-term priority, to help take care of the patients that are in our offices. The long-term priority is really to address the root of these issues and advocate for system changes that prohibit policies [that] unnecessarily increase the cost of care and create these treatment delays.

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