Side Effect of Care: Financial Toxicity?

Posted in ACCC News, Cancer Care, Education by ACCCBuzz on June 12, 2013

by Amanda Patton, Manager, Communications ACCC

Fiscal-CliffTwo recent studies once again focus our attention on how cancer care costs are affecting patients.

In a study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, published in the May 15 Health Affairs researchers reported that Washington State cancer patients were found to be 2.65 times more likely to go bankrupt than people without cancer, with younger cancer patients having 2–5 times higher rates of bankruptcy than cancer patients age 65 or older.

Another recent study from Duke Cancer Institute, presented at the June 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting (ASCO Abstract #6506), reported that although most cancer patients would like to talk about the cost of care with their doctors, often they don’t. Reasons why vary from embarrassment, to thinking it was not something that the doctor could help with, to fear that it might compromise the quality of their treatment. Findings come from a survey of 300 insured patients treated at Duke and affiliated clinics in rural North Carolina.

“There’s a real disconnect,” lead study author Yousuf Zafar, MD, MHS, said in a press release. “Even people with the highest needs aren’t bringing up costs as part of the decision-making process.”

Discussion about the financial issues surrounding cancer treatment can be daunting for both patients and providers. However, the Duke study found that many patients felt they gained by having a discussion about finances.

“We found that when patients did talk about costs with their doctors, many felt they gained something from the discussion—that their expenses were reduced,” Zafar said. “This suggests that the perceived barriers to the cost conversation aren’t real, and we need to do more to foster a dialogue around these issues.”

The Association of Community Cancer Centers’ Financial Information and Learning Network project offers resources to help providers who deal with patients on the complex financial issues surrounding their cancer diagnosis and treatment. Among the offerings are online courses on topics such as “Patient Assistance 101,” “Financial Counseling 101,” and “Financial Specialist as Part of the Multidisciplinary Cancer Care Team;” videos; and a practical Financial Assistance Toolkit. Plus, a new Financial Assistance Pre-Conference, being held in conjunction with the ACCC National Oncology Conference, has just been announced.

We hope these resources can help to “foster dialogue” on these complex and difficult issues.

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