Online Tool Gives Physicians, Patients Access to Cancer Treatment Costs

February 22, 2016

A pilot program that integrated costs associated with some of the most common cancer treatment protocols with electronic medical records was successful in providing value to both physicians and patients.

A pilot program that integrated costs associated with some of the most common cancer treatment protocols with electronic medical records was successful in providing value to both physicians and patients, according to the results of a study presented at the 2016 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Quality Care Symposium, held February 26–27 in Phoenix (abstract 4).

The pilot program  tested an online tool that included a series of 50 printable worksheets for the most commonly order cancer treatment protocols including codes and prices for all drugs, supportive medications, tests, and professional services for one treatment cycle.

“With cancer treatment prices on the rise, it has 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, in a prepared statement. “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.”

Henrikson and colleagues tested this tool in four oncology clinics that were part of Group Health, an integrated health care delivery system in Washington state.

One-third of participants reported accessing the price sheets at least once a week, and 70% of participants said the use of these sheets had no effect on their workload.

Some of the most convenient features reported included an improved access to cost information, a treatment protocol-based layout, and the service of previously unmet patient needs. On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), the participants gave the program the following scores:

• to patients, 7.9
• to oncology service line, 7.8
• to Group Health, 7.7
• to the physician’s own work or practice, 6.5.

Although participants reported a positive overall patient response to the program, they did suggest that it could be improved by adding patient-level cost share information and by expanding the project to include more treatment protocols.

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,” Henrikson said.

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.

Commenting about the importance of this research, Patricia Ganz, MD, ASCO spokesperson, said: “Increasingly, patients want to be able to discuss the cost of various treatments with their physicians, so it’s important that doctors have a reliable and easy way of accessing pricing information. The innovative tool created for oncologists in Washington state could be a model for physicians in other areas who want to help their patients better plan for the future.”