Chemotherapy Drug-Specific Education: Putting Information at the Patient’s Fingertips

As we continue to better understand the many diseases encompassed under the name, “cancer,” we are also seeing an increase in the number and complexity of anti-cancer treatments. These exciting advances are taking place while cancer programs are striving to empower patients with education about their diagnosis and treatment journey and continually improve the patient experience of care. In this guest blog post, Dr. James Weese, vice president, Aurora Cancer Care, describes his program’s 2017 ACCC Innovator Award winning approach.

By James Weese, MD, FACS

The Challenge
Oncologists, nurses, and other cancer care staff across the country work tirelessly to find the best way to deliver a patient’s treatment plan, including the type of chemotherapy treatment recommended and side effects patients may experience. In the aftermath of hearing the words, “You have cancer,” the life-changing ripple effects of that diagnosis can make it challenging for patients and their families to absorb all the details and fully understanding the treatment plan that’s ahead.

At Aurora Cancer Care, we wondered how we could provide better information in a consistent manner to patients across our large geographical area. Information that could be delivered in the office and reviewed in the comfort of the patient’s home. We offer cancer care in 19 communities from the Wisconsin-Illinois border all the way up to Marinette, Wisconsin, and diagnose nearly 8,000 new cases each year.

That’s a lot of people who need to hear consistent messages and in a way that’s convenient for them.

Our team at Aurora Cancer Care set out to address this challenge while creating a more meaningful experience for patients and their families. Under the leadership of Kerry Twite, MSN, RN, a certified oncology clinical nurse specialist with Aurora Cancer Care, a series of more than 125 educational videos were developed to provide a more personalized experience to patients. Four key principles guided the development of the video series:

  1. All patients need basic information about chemotherapy prior to treatment.
  2. Most drugs today are given in combination with other drugs.
  3. Patients want to share educational information with family and friends who may not be able to attend each appointment.
  4. Patient education from nursing teams can vary depending on multiple factors, including available time, location, and number of other potential interruptions during the session.

The Video Solution
With these tenets in mind, our team developed more than 125 chemotherapy educational videos featuring Aurora Cancer Care physicians, nurses, and other staff. Each education video a patient receives includes three videos:

  • First, a chemotherapy video explains basic principles of chemotherapy, including how it is administered (oral or intravenous), the different types of drugs, and potential side effects and complications.
  • Then, a video provides specific information about each drug the patient will receive.
  • Finally, a “Cancer SOS” video, details for patients how to manage their care at home and when to call their physician or go to the emergency room.

All the educational videos are housed on a password-protected website. When patients receive their treatment plan, they are emailed a link and password to the specific drug treatment that they will be receiving. Patients can then watch the video before their next appointment in the comfort of their home, and they can also share the video with family and friends who may have questions. Patients can then come to their next appointment with specific follow-up questions. Patients and families can access and watch each video as many times as they wish.

Learn more on our education program in this video.

Results
Patients have shared with our nursing team how helpful they’ve found these videos in preparing themselves (and their families) for the road ahead. More engaged patients mean higher patient satisfaction scores, and we’ve certainly seen that too, though it’s very early in the roll-out of the video series to see a major shift.

Our video series has also allowed nursing staff to focus on other educational tasks during the patient’s appointment while still ensuring consistent educational information for patients is provided throughout the treatment process.

At Aurora Cancer Care, our focus rests solely on the delivering the best care possible to patients throughout our region and helping them fight and overcome the disease. We are honored to be named the recipient of a 2017 ACCC Innovator Award for our patient educational video series, and hope it might inspire other cancer centers to explore similar educational tools for patients.

Learn more about how we developed our video series during our presentation at the ACCC 34th National Oncology Conference, Oct. 18-20, in Nashville, TN.


James Weese, MD, FACS, is vice president, Aurora Cancer Care, Milwaukee, Wisc.

Meet all of the ACCC 2017 Innovator’s at the ACCC 34th National Oncology Conference in Nashville. Browse the full agenda. Early bird registration rates run through Monday, August 21.

Providing Support to Oncology Professionals

By Virginia Vaitones, MSW, OSW-C

Hands offering supportHealthcare professionals are known for hiding their grief. There is an unspoken (though outdated!) code that we must be strong. Or, put another way, that we just need to get used to it.

But with increased recognition of the high risk for burnout among healthcare professionals, this “old code” is coming under scrutiny.

Writing about “professional grief,” Elizabeth Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH, former executive director of the National Association of Social Workers observes that “professional grief is generally hidden grief, grief that is internalized and not openly expressed . . . . There’s no natural outlet and demands of work overshadow it.” Grief that is stuffed away can and will accumulate which can lead to helplessness, hopelessness, anger, detachment, and burnout. Read more.

Serving on the frontlines of care, oncology nursing staff often build relationships with patients (and their families) who they often see for weeks and months. Not surprisingly, research has shown these healthcare professionals may be at risk for burnout syndrome.

At Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Johnston-Willis Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, the chaplain and social worker knew that “. . . more needed to be done to provide intentional, self-care opportunities for staff allowing them to break through layers of grief and become emotionally and spirituality stronger.”  With input from the oncology nurses serving on a bereavement committee, the program has developed the Reflection Service for staff only. In their article in the current edition of Oncology Issues, “Normalizing Feeling of Grief and Loss in Oncology Nurses,” Jennifer Collins, MDiv, MS, BCC, director of Pastoral Care at HCA, CJW Medical Center, and Sandra Tan, MSW, LCSW, ACHP-SW, a licensed clinical social worker at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Johnston-Willis Hospital, share how their program has created a “safe space” for oncology nurses to reflect, share, and grieve in their cancer center. Read their story.

Those of us working in cancer care know that in the coming years, we are facing projected workforce shortages while our aging population will bring an increase in cancer diagnoses.  As the field of oncology grapples with these challenges and plans for the future, I think we can all agree that replacing the “old code” with a “new code” addressing and mitigating the risk of burnout among healthcare professionals is essential.


Virginia Vaitones, MSW, OSW-C, is a past president of the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC)  and the Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW). She is currently serving as Chair of the ACCC Editorial Committee. 

ACA Repeal Efforts Stalled in Washington

by Blair Burnett, Policy Analyst, ACCC

U.S. Capitol

Despite much debate, healthcare reform remains in flux in Washington after a round of critical votes in the U.S. Senate this week. In the latest effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), on Tuesday, July 25, the U.S. Senate voted 51-50, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie vote, for a motion to proceed, which set up a process allowing for open debate and amendments to the AHCA, the House version of ACA repeal, on the Senate floor.

On Tuesday evening, the U.S. Senate brought to the floor their latest version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) with the added Cruz Amendment, allowing for sale of low-cost insurance plans if insurance policies that comply with the “essential services” provision of the ACA are also sold. The bill needed 60 votes to pass, but only received 43.

Debate continued Wednesday, July 26, and the U.S. Senate brought a repeal only bill to the floor, the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act (ORRA), without language of a replacement effort. The vote, 45-55, showcased the lack of support among either party to vote for healthcare reform without actionable legislation.

As of Thursday, July 27, Senators were still in debate, bringing various amendments to floor for a vote. Late Thursday evening, a “skinny bill” was brought forth, that sought to roll back both the individual and employer mandate from the ACA. The text of this bill was not made available for public review, but besides repeal of the individual and employer mandate, left much of the ACA in place. When brought to a vote in the U.S. Senate, the bill failed, with a 49-51 vote in dissension of passage.

CBO estimates stated that the number of individuals insured would have decreased by 16 million by 2026 if the “skinny bill” were to pass and continue to become formal legislation. In the same time frame, the CBO estimates stated the federal deficit would have decreased by $142 billion, and premiums would have increased by an average of 20 percent.

For now, ACA repeal efforts and larger healthcare reform has stalled. More changes are certain to come from the Hill in the coming months as bipartisan healthcare reform legislation is expected to be drafted. Based upon the four pillars of ACCC’s health reform principles, a “skinny repeal” of the ACA would likely have destabilized current insurance markets, and placed increased burdens on cancer patients, specifically, elderly, low-income Americans accessing insurance in the individual and non-group markets. This week, ACCC joined over 30 other provider and patient groups to advocate against a skinny repeal of the ACA bill.

Senate Social Media Campaign - Skinny Repeal 7-27-17
As new legislation is brought forth, ACCC will continue to monitor and analyze impacts healthcare reform will have on cancer patients across the country.


ACCC members can gain an in-depth understanding of how CMS’ proposed CY 2018 Medicare rules will impact oncology by participating in ACCC’s August 9 webinar, “CMS Proposed 2018 OPPS & PFS Rules: What You Need to Know.” Learn more [member log-in required].

House Subcommittee Hearing Focuses on HRSA’s Oversight of 340B

by Blair Burnett, Policy Analyst, ACCC

U.S. CapitolThis week, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, of the Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), held a hearing titled, “Examining HRSA’s Oversight of the 340B Drug Pricing Program.” Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that currently oversees the 340B Drug Pricing Program. The program’s inception in 1992 sought to provide discounted outpatient drugs to “covered entities” (DSH facilities, rural referral centers, freestanding cancer centers, non-profit hospitals, etc.) who provide a certain level of care to Medicaid and low-income Medicare patients, allowing covered entities to stretch scarce federal resources to provide affordable prescription drug coverage to all patients.

The hearing, convened on Tuesday, July 18, addressed how HRSA’s oversight can improve review of eligible healthcare facilities utilizing the program in the face of continued expansion of facilities that qualify. As of October 2016, there are 12,168 covered entities utilizing the 340B Drug Pricing Program, and this number has quadrupled since 2011. The hearing also sought to explore how HRSA can be more transparent with 340B Drug Pricing Program reporting, calling attention to gaps in current data collection efforts.

Witnesses who testified at the hearing included:

  • Krista M. Pedley, PharmD, MS, CDR, USPHS, Director, Office of Pharmacy Affairs, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
  • Debbie Draper, Director, Health Care, Government Accountability Office (GAO); and,
  • Erin Bliss, Assistant Inspector General, Office of Evaluation and Inspections, Office of Inspector General (OIG), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Both the office of the GAO and HHS OIG have done significant work with the 340B Drug Pricing Program, and the witness testimony spoke to the recommendations both have made to HRSA. Both offices have also repeatedly reviewed HRSA’s regulatory capabilities with the 340B Drug Pricing Program and stated the need for more robust oversight. Based upon witness testimony and member questioning, key takeaways include:

  • Possible bipartisan legislation efforts that seek to grant HRSA more oversight of the 340B Drug Pricing Program.
  • Increased transparency from HRSA on 340B Drug Pricing Program costs and rules.
    Multiple members called for insight into how covered entities are utilizing any savings accrued from the 340B Drug Pricing Program. Within the current oversight from HRSA, there are no guidelines on how covered entities utilize or report 340B Drug Pricing Program savings.
  • Additional hearings to examine the 340B Drug Pricing Program within the subcommittee bringing in physicians and hospital executives to ask healthcare facilities how they are utilizing savings acquired from the 340B Drug Pricing Program.

Notably, this hearing convened shortly after the July 13 release of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed 2018 Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) rule, which calls for a drastic reduction in Medicare Part B payments for outpatient drugs to all covered entities utilizing the 340B Drug Pricing Program from average sale price (ASP) plus 6 percent to ASP minus 22.5 percent in an effort to reign in the program. Rep. DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Schakowsky (D-IL), and Rep. Pallone (D-NJ) voiced concern over this proposal and called for bipartisan support to make meaningful reforms to the 340B Drug Pricing Program to ensure HRSA oversight is effective in aligning transparency as well as improved facility and overall data audits.

As policymakers continue to shine the light on the 340B program, over the next several weeks ACCC will continue to monitor efforts to reform the program and evaluate the impact the OPPS proposal will have on ACCC membership. Along with other stakeholders and coalition partners, we will be forcefully advocating for policies that are in the best interest of all community-based providers and their patients.


ACCC members can gain an in-depth understanding of how CMS’ proposed CY 2018 Medicare rules will impact oncology by participating in ACCC’s August 9 webinar, “CMS Proposed 2018 OPPS & PFS Rules: What You Need to Know.” Learn more [member log-in required].

Update from Capitol Hill

By Brittney Fairman, MPS, MA, ACCC Policy Analyst

U.S. CapitolAt the end of last week, it was anticipated that the U.S. Senate would hold a vote on the Senate Republicans’ revised version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) today, Tuesday, July 18. However, over the weekend,  Senator John McCain (R-AZ) underwent an emergency surgery and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that the vote on BCRA would be postponed until Senator McCain’s return to Washington, D.C. With two Senators, Rand Paul (R-KY) and Susan Collins (R-ME), already openly opposed to voting ‘Yes’ on BCRA—Senator McCain’s absence would have put the Republican Senators’ vote on the bill at risk.

In order to continue the repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Senate Republicans would need at least 50 of the 52 Senate Republicans to vote in favor of BCRA.

On Monday evening, the bill took another turn when Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) jointly announced their opposition of a motion to proceed on the revised healthcare bill. These two additional defections on Senator McConnell’s bill means the Senate Majority does not currently have the votes to even begin debate on the legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

So at this point, the future of BCRA remains uncertain. On Monday evening, Majority Leader McConnell stated, “Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful.” President Trump has suggested the Senate Majority move forward in repealing the ACA without immediate replacement.  In this scenario, the Senate would vote in the coming days on a bill which would delay the ACA’s repeal for two years as Republicans work on individual bills to dismantle the current healthcare law.

ACCC will continue to monitor the Senate’s actions and keep ACCC members posted with the latest updates.

What Happened in Washington This Week

By Brittney Fairman, MPS, MA, ACCC Policy Analyst

U.S. CapitolIt’s been quite a week in Washington, D.C.  Let’s recap.

On Wednesday, July 12, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) held the latest in a series of webinars explaining the agency’s proposed rule for CY 2018 updates to MACRA’s Quality Payment Program. If you missed ACCC’s webinar on the implications of this proposed rule, members can access the webinar, presentation slides, and a summary [login required].

On Thursday morning, July 13, U.S. Senate Republicans unveiled their revised draft of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA). The updated bill is the latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and we continue to have concerns about the erosion of protections for cancer patients in the exchange marketplaces. ACCC is continuing to monitor the effort on the Capitol Hill and measure the evolving legislation against ACCC’s health reform principles.

Then later that same day, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the proposed CY 2018 Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System rule and CY 2018 Physician Fee Schedule rule. ACCC is currently analyzing both rules and will provide in-depth information to members on the impact on oncology. At first glance, the proposed, significant cuts to hospitals in the 340B Program and to new outpatient facilities cause concern, particularly for small, rural cancer programs and programs in vulnerable communities without other sources of healthcare. Stay tuned for information on the date and time of an upcoming ACCC members-only webinar on these proposed rules.

Also Happening on Capitol Hill
So this week, while much of the nation’s attention has been focused on Congressional action on ACA repeal and replace, and many healthcare providers awaited CMS’s release of the proposed 2018 Medicare rules, it’s important to note that another significant piece of legislation moved forward on Capitol Hill. On July 12, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the FDA Reauthorization Act (HR 2430). This legislation includes important bills for cancer care, including the Research to Accelerate Cures and Equity (RACE) Act and reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), which allows the FDA to collect fees from drug manufacturers to fund the new drug approval process. The User Fee Program plays an important role in the timely review of new drug applications and patients’ ability to access novel therapies.

The “RACE” Act is a bill which has important implications for the fight against childhood cancer. The legislation specifically updates the 2003 Pediatric Research Equity Act (PREA), which requires studies of adult drugs in adolescents during a drug’s development process.

PREA has experienced success in providing important information on a drug’s use in children in hundreds of cases; but, it has not yet been applied to pediatric cancer drugs. It is well known within the oncology community that many pediatric cancer patients are typically treated with “off-label” adult drugs. Under the RACE act, the FDA will be given authority to require a pediatric investigation into adult drugs if those drugs use molecular targeting and that same target is “substantively relevant” to the continuance of a pediatric cancer. If passed in the U.S. Senate, this act will permit clinicians to know the dosage, safety and efficacy in pediatrics and grant accurate labeling for use on children. Additionally, the RACE act will mandate that molecular targeting drugs be given an orphan designation to go through a pediatric investigation.

As summer in Washington continues to heat up, ACCC is closely monitoring legislation on Capitol Hill and performing an in-depth analysis of CMS’s proposed rules for 2018. Stay tuned for updates.

 

Creating a Navigation Intake Assessment Tool

By Tricia Strusowski, MS, RN

Compass pointing at answers-SMALL      “I want to be aware of the navigator and support services as soon as possible.”

This is a frequent response from patients when asked about the optimum point in the cancer care journey to learn about navigation and support services.

And yet, during a first visit (or intake interview) with a patient, navigators may question how much to review. Where is the balance between too much information and not enough?  Based on my experience in care coordination and patient navigation, here’s my perspective on creating and using an intake assessment tool.

Number 1 Rule:  Assess if the patient is ready for this discussion. First, provide support. Let the patient and his or her family take lead in the conversation. Listen. Then, based on your assessment, ask the patient and family if they are ready to review the support services and their specific needs. Once you receive their permission, you can then initiate the intake assessment process.

Each cancer program should have a consistent process for assessing and educating patients and families about the cancer program and support services.  A well-crafted intake assessment tool can be used for all cancer disease sites and should include the following:

  • Role of the navigator and the support staff at your cancer center
  • Mini assessment of immediate support service needs
  • Preferred learning style for education
  • Questions that prompt a conversation on what the patient knows about his or her cancer
  • Questions to elicit from the patient specific concerns, goals, and family concerns
  • Family, medical, and surgical history
  • Mini symptom and behavior risk assessment
  • A listing of national and community resources (usually included in patient’s treatment journal).

Gathering this essential information at the time of your initial visit with the patient will establish a strong foundation for the multidisciplinary team. The navigator’s assessment process is an opportunity to begin the discussion about goals of care and/or goals of their treatment—a pillar for providing patient and family-centered care. Further, identifying patients’ preferred learning style and using it across the continuum sets them up to succeed in understanding their cancer and treatment plan. This information can be shared at tumor conferences, multidisciplinary meetings, huddles, or via email if a secure environment is established.  It is also vital to support the navigator role in educating the patient and family consistently, as well as providing an important resource tool for navigators who may be called on to cover for a colleague. An assessment tool is a key component for a consistent foundation to navigation, but health literacy training and patient education teach-back methods can enhance the process and support staff success in educating patients and their families.

Assessing the immediate needs of the patient and family, while providing education and support, establishes a patient-centered approach and lays the groundwork for a strong bond between the patient, family, the navigator, and the support services.

View a sample navigation intake assessment tool. You are welcome to revise this tool as needed for your cancer program.


ACCC member Tricia Strusowski, MS, RN, is a consultant with Oncology Solutions, LLC.

The upcoming 34th ACCC National Oncology Conference, Oct. 18-20 in Nashville, Tenn., features multiple sessions focused on optimizing patient navigation services to improve the patient experience, and more. View the conference agenda.

Turning on the Light Switch

June is Cancer Immunotherapy Month, shining a spotlight on advancements in immuno-oncology. 2017 ACCC Institute for Clinical Immuno-Oncology Innovator Award winner Oncology Specialists S.C. at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital has been delivering immunotherapy for cancer for more than six years. For highlights on how they’ve developed their program and how “Turning on the Light Switch” helps their providers and patients talk about managing immune-related toxicities, read on.

by Ann McGreal, RHanging BulbsN

For more than 30 years the world of oncology nursing and the patients we care for has been bound by the expectations of the known effects of chemotherapy on the human body. While these toxicities can be difficult and, at times, even life threatening, for the most part they are predictable. As experienced oncology nurses, we know that after a certain number of days the patient blood counts will likely drop. Our patients being treated with chemotherapy anticipate that they may experience nausea, diarrhea, bone pain, and other side effects. For the most part, with chemotherapy we can expect a logical start, progression, and end to toxicities.

Immuno-Oncology Brings a Paradigm Shift
However, the new dawn of immuno-oncology and the rapidly increasing use of immunotherapy for cancer have upended not only our approach to supporting oncology patients, but also how we approach the toxicities of treatment.

Our practice, Oncology Specialists at Lutheran Advocate General Hospital, in Park Ridge, Illinois, has been on the cutting edge of using immunotherapy for melanoma treatments from the beginning. We were among the highest accrual sites for the original ipilimumab clinical trials. Then, in 2011, immunotherapy took its first big step into the limelight with the FDA approval of ipilimumab for the treatment of Stage IV melanoma. The demand on our clinic for ipilimumab increased greatly.

Initially, our practice was able to deal with the need to think about symptom management in a different way because we were caring for a small population of patients—all in the melanoma space. However, in 2014, with the dawn of PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitors that all began to change. Today, the potential for this class of drug seems unlimited, with more than 500 current studies underway in the U.S., and new indications and approvals occurring on what seems like a daily basis.

Educate. Educate. Educate.
As we implemented immunotherapy in our practice, our nursing team took on the challenge of how best to educate both staff and our patients on the mechanism of action for these new therapies, as well as their potential toxicities.

We quickly learned that peer-to-peer education was the most effective way to help our medical staff develop a better understanding of immunotherapy. We also found that the real challenge lay in accepting that immunotherapy for cancer requires a different way of looking at the total treatment picture. To implement this new treatment paradigm, we needed to better educate our patients so that they had a clear understanding of how immunotherapy differed from traditional chemotherapy and why early reporting of toxicities is so important. This meant we had break through long-held beliefs such as, “everyone gets sick during cancer treatment” and “I should just ‘tough it out’ or they will stop my therapy.” We needed our patients to understand that with immunotherapy just “tough it out” can be a deadly mindset. Patients on immunotherapy need to partner with their providers and report any toxicities early so that their healthcare team can work quickly to resolve the issue.

Flipping the Switch
With this need in mind, we created a set of education tools built around the analogy of the patient’s immune system functioning like a light switch. The immunotherapy treatment turns the switch on. If the treatment starts causing toxicities, the patient’s body cannot turn the switch off by itself. Unless the toxicities are reported, the affected system (the light) will burn out. Today, these education tools and discharge instructions are the backbone of our immunotherapy program.

Next Step: Incorporating into Our EMR
With our staff education and training on managing immune-related toxicities and patient education in place, we looked at processes to ensure cohesive documentation in our EMR so that an on-call physician or covering nurse could easily pick up the treatment thread and assist patients. This not only led to the development of templates but also a standardized treatment plan for immune-related toxicities, including the use of corticosteroids.

At the ACCC 34th National Oncology Conference in October, we’ll be presenting a more in-depth look at how we have developed and grown an immunotherapy program at our practice.  We hope you’ll join us in Nashville.
________________________________________________________________
Ann McGreal, RN, is an Oncology Nurse Clinician at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois.

Read more about upcoming ACCC 34th National Oncology Conference here.

ACA Repeal & Replace Update: Senate Republicans Put Their Cards on the Table

By Brittney Fairman, MA, MPS, Policy Analyst, ACCC

U.S. CapitolLast Thursday, June 22, Senate Republicans publicly unveiled their discussion draft legislation titled, the Better Care Reconciliation Act—their version of the House’s recently passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) (H.R. 1628). Neither bill was drafted under regular order, as Republicans try to maintain steam in pushing forward with the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Unfortunately, for multiple stakeholders, including many of those within the cancer care community, it is questionable how much the Republican Caucus sought patient and provider feedback to incorporate into their bills.

Although there was much speculation that the Senate version of the AHCA would undergo an entire re-write, the legislation released last week represents more of a fine-tuning of the House AHCA bill. Much of the Senate draft’s language reflects that found within the AHCA. The Senate bill contains various tax cuts for mostly high-income Americans; maintains the elimination of the individual and employer mandates; proposes less generous premium subsidies for those with lower household incomes; holds onto the AHCA’s similarly deep cuts to the Medicaid program—phasing out the expansion over three years and transitioning to a capped financing structure which essentially re-shapes the program’s funding; changes state adjustment-of-age bands by allowing insurers to increase the ACA’s ratio from allowing insurers to charge up to three times more for older individuals to permitting insurers to charge up to five time more; and still allows states to apply for waivers to overhaul their insurance markets (including the option of ending the essential health benefit requirement and potentially reinstating annual and lifetime coverage gaps).

There are, however, several notable changes within the “draft” Better Care Reconciliation Act signaling some improvement from the House bill. This Senate version would require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions and ban them from charging higher premiums because of their health history. But there is a caveat—there would not be an essential health benefit (EHB) requirement. This means that insurers would be able to offer less comprehensive policies that may or may not cover a patient’s treatment for pre-existing condition(s). Additionally, for individuals with household incomes between 100 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty (FPL), authorized funding for cost-sharing reductions (CSR) payments would continue until 2020.

On Monday, June 26, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a CBO score for the Senate legislation that finds the bill would result in 22 million more uninsured Americans by 2026, relative to the number under current law. This is slightly fewer than the increase in the number of uninsured estimated for the House-passed AHCA legislation.  According to the CBO score under the Better Care Reconciliation Act, by 2026 an estimated 49 million people will be uninsured, compared to the 28 million who will be uninsured that year under the current law.

A vote on the Senate bill is expected this week, leaving Senators with a relatively short window for reviewing the bill and also leaving stakeholders limited time to weigh in on the bill’s negative consequences for healthcare.

In a statement, the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) has expressed deep disappointment in the Senate’s draft legislation both in terms of policy and process, noting that the bill violates ACCC’s health reform principles.  ACCC believes this bill would be devastating for cancer patients and their families, and urges lawmakers to vote against the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  ACCC members can contact their Senators here.


Editor’s note: This post was updated on 6/26/17 to reflect release of the CBO score for the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.

Navigation Caseload Quandary?

Learn about 2017 ACCC Innovator Award winner USA Mitchell Cancer Institute’s homegrown Oncology Navigation Acuity Tool.

By Rev. Diane Baldwin, RN, OCN, CBCN, and Meredith Jones, MS, BSN, RN

FinalSealUnfortunately, nurse navigation services are typically non-revenue generating, necessitating a cost/benefit evaluation of these services for many programs. To justify nurse navigation in this new era of value-based care, we must define appropriate caseload volumes through risk stratification, and determine how best to allocate nurse navigation time and resources among those caseloads.

How Best to Measure & Define Acuity?
Acuity tools have been used in healthcare for decades and have proven successful as a means of determining staffing needs, improving patient care, and controlling costs.  Most acuity tools score patients on a scale of specific attributes. For nurse navigation programs, an acuity tool can be used to determine caseloads and aid in more efficient nurse navigator caseload management.

At USA Mitchell Cancer Institute, our nurse navigators, known as Clinical Care Coordinators, maintain a caseload of approximately 175 patients. However, as we identified more patients needing navigation services, we recognized the need for an acuity tool specifically for caseload management.

As we researched acuity tools, we found limited options related to oncology nurse navigation. Each of the tools we identified was specific to a facility, and was either used to determine overall staffing or focused specifically on the amount of time spent with patients.  We believed that a more generalized tool, including more patient factors, was needed to accurately determine patient acuity. Therefore, the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute began developing an Oncology Navigation Acuity Tool, universally designed to benefit our practice, while also allowing for use and adaptation by other cancer programs.

More Than Just a Number
USA Mitchell Cancer Institute’s goal was to develop a tool that measures a patient’s acuity through a holistic lens. As cancer care providers know, each patient’s navigation needs depend on a variety of factors. Our Oncology Navigation Acuity Tool considers 11 factors that we identified as directly correlating with patient resource utilization and, therefore, acuity level.  Each factor is reviewed individually to determine the acuity score, placing less emphasis on cancer type and stage, and more emphasis on overall patient context. For example, two patients with the same type and stage of cancer, receiving the same treatment, may present with different comorbidities and levels of family support, resulting in two very different acuity scores.

An inherit weakness in most acuity tools is that the “score” assigned to the patient determines overall acuity. However, we know that our patients are more than just a number.  Standardized tools often fail to identify important elements needed to address individual patient needs. Therefore, our Oncology Navigation Acuity Tool includes a 12th factor in determining a patient’s acuity: The clinical assessment of the nurse navigator.  This factor is essential to assessing the “whole patient” and our aim of providing holistic care.  Our nurse navigators use the 11 factors of Oncology Navigation Acuity Tool as a guide to assess the acuity of the patient and combine this with their overall clinical assessment, for a final acuity score.  Ultimately, our nurse navigators, may elect to change the acuity level based on their assessment of the individual patient.

Putting the Tool to Work
The Oncology Navigation Acuity Tool allows us to easily assess the needs of each navigated patient prior to caseload allocation and to quickly determine the level of navigation the patient will need. The tool has also guided managerial decisions to adjust caseloads based on acuity rather than patient count alone.  Further, we’ve utilized this tool for both quality and process improvement to study the varied needs of patients among the acuity levels, and to determine the effect of accurately navigated patients on system utilization and cost.

In our presentation at the ACCC 34th National Oncology Conference, October 18-20, in Nashville, TN, we’ll share more on how using this low-cost, simple to implement tool has resulted not only in a cost-effective, efficient means of refining navigation utilization, but also in the delivery of more personalized, comprehensive, improved quality of care for our navigated patients.

We look forward to seeing you in Nashville!


Rev. Diane Baldwin, RN, OCN, CBCN, is Manager, Quality Assurance, and Meredith Jones, MS, BSN, RN, is Director, Quality Management, at the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute.