Len Lichtenfeld offers insight on the new Oncology Care Model.
Q: I read that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services launched an Oncology Care Model that’s supposed to help patients get better care. How will this model work, and who will benefit from it?
A: We continue to rapidly evolve cancer care: how we receive it, how we deliver it, how we pay for it and how we make sure that patients and caregivers get the quality of care and attention they need and deserve. One of the leading approaches in this “change journey” is a new project called the Oncology Care Model. This initiative — launched in July — is coordinated among nearly 200 cancer practices and 17 private insurers around the country; a separate Medicare arm includes 3,200 oncologists and 155,000 Medicare patients. The program rewards oncology practices with a monthly payment based on the number of patients they treat, as long as their cancer programs meet stated objectives and requirements. These include creating more streamlined data sharing across the health care teams that treat each patient; offering extended services, such as after-hours infusion centers, to avoid emergency department visits and unnecessary hospitalizations; and ensuring that patients have access to support groups, pain management services and clinical trials.
I share the hope of many — including patient advocacy/service organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, cancer professional organizations and health professionals — that this program will serve as an exemplary model to improve patient care. Understanding and meeting patient needs, a concept frequently called “patient-centered care,” must be the cornerstone of improvement in cancer care. Soliciting feedback from patients and caregivers is but one example of how health care organizations might improve their responsiveness to our expectations.
I am always an optimist that we can and will do better. However, it is important for all of us to work together to achieve these outcomes, and it’s equally important that we remain alert to address situations in which the needs of patients with cancer aren’t being met. Our voices must be heard.
If we don’t keep that message top of mind, then we will not achieve the promise of an improved, more responsive and patient-centered model of cancer care. We must take advantage of this admirable effort to show that everyone can benefit from bringing new thinking and new focus to what has become, for some, an overwhelming life experience. There is a lot of hope riding on the outcome.
—Len Lichtenfeld, MD, is deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Send House Call questions to email@example.com.