Focus on the Society of Rhode Island Clinical Oncologists 

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By fostering camaraderie among Society members and improving communication, we find that members do not hesitate to consult with each other regarding treatment for a specific patient, and that is making a difference in improving care.

—Joseph DiBenedetto, Jr, MD, FASCO

Founded in 1994, just 1 year after ASCO launched the State/Regional Affiliate Program, the Society of Rhode Island Clinical Oncologists is one of ASCO’s oldest state affiliates. Like many other ASCO affiliates, the Providence-based group is facing a myriad of challenges, including ensuring continued patient access to high-quality oncology care in an environment of rising health-care costs and decreasing Medicare reimbursements as well as addressing the needs of Society members serving in solo community practices, community hospital-based practices, and academic institutions.

The ASCO Post talked with Joseph DiBenedetto, Jr, MD, FASCO, President of the Society of Rhode Island Clinical Oncologists, about the challenges his Society faces and the changing dynamic of oncology care in Rhode Island.

ASCO Relationship

Why is it important for your Society to be an ASCO state affiliate?

ASCO provides us with a number of resources we would not have on our own, including guidance on Medicare and private insurance reimbursement issues, information on national legislation and how it may affect oncologists and patients in our state, continuing medical education materials, and government activism. ASCO also offers helpful workshop seminars in billing and coding and other office management concerns.

Professional Challenges

What professional challenges does your organization face?

When we started our Society 20 years ago, our greatest challenge was in bridging the dichotomy between academic and community oncologists. Today, our greatest challenge is the change in the economic landscape of the community oncologist in private practice, which is resulting in many community oncologists closing their practices and working for community-based hospitals instead. So oncologists are becoming employed by hospitals, and their salaries are based on what these hospitals can afford to pay for their services.

As a Society, we have to stay relevant to all the oncologists we serve, whether they are in the academic, private, or hospital-based setting, and make sure that their needs are being met. It is a big challenge to overcome, and we are looking to ASCO to provide us with the tools and learning modules to make sure our message stays relevant to all oncologists, as we provide the support our members need and maintain their interest in our group. 

Early Successes

What were some of your early successes?

We were the second state in the country to pass legislation requiring state-regulated health insurers to cover off-label use of FDA-approved drugs for oncology treatment. We were quite proud of this accomplishment. We have also worked with health-care insurers to decrease the higher copayments for outpatient care so patients could receive chemotherapy and supportive care drugs without incurring a severe financial strain.

We also met with the medical directors of health-care carriers in our state regarding patient and physician reimbursement issues and have worked with the director of our J14 Medicare Administrative Contractor [for Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont] to ensure the maintenance of high-quality patient care. The Society serves on the Carrier Advisory Committee of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and when there are oncology questions on coverage, we provide assistance as needed.

Quality of Care

How has your Society helped oncologists improve the quality of care for their patients?

Being part of the Society of Rhode Island Clinical Oncologists provides members with a venue to exchange ideas about patient care and fosters camaraderie and better communication among oncologists throughout the state. Having a Society allows us to bridge our differences regardless of our type of practice. We don’t see ourselves in competition. We see each other as colleagues, and that is something our Society has fostered. The organization has been a conduit for exchange of ideas, all to benefit the patient.

For example, I’m in a group practice, so it’s easy for me to consult with other oncologists immediately. But some oncologists are more isolated in solo practices and don’t have ready access to colleagues. By fostering camaraderie among Society members and improving communication, we find that members do not hesitate to consult with each other regarding treatment for a specific patient, and that is making a difference in improving care. ■

Disclosure: Dr. DiBenedetto reported no potential conflicts of interest.