2016 Quality Care Symposium: Online Tool Improves Access to Information on Cancer Treatment Costs

Key Points

  • The worksheets were accessible directly from the electronic health records, and each provided reimbursement codes and prices for all drugs, supportive medications, tests, and professional services for one treatment cycle.
  • The tool was intended primarily for oncologists to share with their patients, but all clinical staff were educated on how to use it.
  • Users reported that the tool provided high value to patients and their own practice, as well as the health-care delivery system, without having a negative effect on staff workload.

To facilitate doctor/patient conversations about costs of cancer care, researchers developed and piloted an online tool for oncologists. The innovative resource lists prices for the 50 most commonly prescribed cancer treatment regimens. A survey of the pilot users at four clinics in Washington State indicated that the resource provides value to both patients and practices. Information on this resource was presented by Henrikson et al at the 2016 Quality Care Symposium (Abstract 4).

“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. “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.”

Resource Details

The pilot resource was launched at Group Health, an integrated health-care delivery system in the Pacific Northwest. Accessible to participating clinics, the online tool included printable worksheets for the 50 most commonly ordered cancer treatment protocols in the system.

The worksheets were accessible directly from the electronic health records, and each provided reimbursement codes and prices for all drugs, supportive medications, tests, and professional services for one treatment cycle. The tool was intended primarily for oncologists to share with their patients, but all clinical staff were educated on how to use it.

The researchers evaluated reaction to the online resource by the pilot group of mainly oncologists and nurses. Users reported that the tool provided high value to patients and their own practice, as well as the health-care delivery system, without having a negative effect on staff workload.

Although patients were not surveyed directly, staff reported that most patients appreciated knowing the costs of potential treatments, and no negative reactions to prices were reported. The protocol-based pricing format was the most useful aspect of the tool. During the pilot phase, oncologists typically offered information on pricing only if the subject came up in discussion with the patient. “In future research projects, we hope to offer treatment cost information proactively to all patients,” said Dr. Henrikson.

According to the survey, a major limitation of this tool is the fact that it does not take patients’ insurance coverage into account. The researchers are exploring ways to include personalized estimates for each patient’s out-of-pocket costs. Other next steps for this project include automating and integrating the tool into patients’ electronic health records and expanding it to capture pricing data for all 300 oncology treatment protocols used at Group Health.

This study received funding from the Group Health Foundation.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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