Category Archives: Cancer Care

Staying the Course: The Role of Oral Oncology Nurse Navigators

By Virginia Vaitones, MSW, OSW-C

The development and use of oral agents in treatment for oncology and blood disorders has exploded over the last decade and half. Today, these agents bring many benefits to patients and cancer care staff, but along with those benefits come challenges.

Then . . . and Now
Thinking back to 2001, for example, when capecitabine, the first oral chemotherapy for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer was approved, Medicare covered 80% and the beneficiary’s co-insurance was 20%. A patient could simply take the prescription to the local pharmacy and get it filled. The relatively modest financial impact and the ease with which the patient could access the medication made me excited about the use of oral agents. And at the time, there was much discussion about oral agents being the treatment of choice in the future.

Nearly two decades later, we now have more than 50 U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved oral anticancer agents.  Over that same time span, as we all know, our healthcare landscape has become increasingly complex, as have our anti-cancer therapeutic regimens. Currently, capecitabine is 1 out of only 5 oral chemotherapy that is covered by Medicare at 80%. Patients and providers today often face challenges in accessing and affording costly new oral agents. Patient understanding of and adherence to complex treatment regimens can also be a barrier to effective treatment. As a result, ensuring quality care for patients receiving oral agents often requires a coordinated effort by innovative and creative cancer practices and programs.

The September/October edition of Oncology Issues highlights two such programs. One program is a large physician practice in central New York with an in-house dispensary; the other is a large outpatient hospital network serving two states, Kentucky and Southern Indiana, also with an in-house dispensary. The first step for both was consulting with their stakeholders to identify how care needs to be delivered and monitored. In both instances, on-going patient support and education were identified as key in establishing trust and compliance with the patient and their caregivers. The answer for both programs? Creating an oral oncology nurse navigator program that ensures care coordination, provides a single point of contact for patients and providers, and has led to improved patient care and satisfaction.

As we engage in the complex delivery system of value-based, patient-centered care, the Association of Community Cancer Centers continues to develop tools and resources for cancer care providers seeking to implement or enhance their oral oncolytic programs. Explore peer-to-peer resources, including webinars, white paper, and patient education materials, available through the ACCC Education initiative Steps to Success: Implementing Oral Oncolytics.

Approximately 25-30 percent of the new cancer treatments in the pipeline are oral agents; cancer programs and physician practices will continue to need a well-coordinated team effort to ensure patient safety and satisfaction.


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. 

The 34th ACCC National Oncology Conference, Oct. 18-20, offers the Oncology Pharmacy Education Network (OPEN) Pre-Conference, including a session on a comprehensive, collaborative, pharmacist-led oral chemotherapy program. Learn more here.  View the full conference agenda.

ACCC Comments to CMS on Quality Payment Program Proposed Rule

By Blair Burnett, ACCC Policy Analyst

On August 21, 2017, ACCC submitted comments to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) regarding the agency’s proposed 2018 updates to the Quality Payment Program (QPP), a two-track value-based reimbursement system created by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). The two tracks in which eligible clinicians can opt to participate are the enhanced fee-for-service based Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs), which require clinicians to take on more than nominal risk.

Under the QPP, 2017 performance will affect Medicare payments for all eligible clinicians in 2019. While many ACCC members have said they’re somewhat familiar with the program, others don’t feel quite as prepared to meet the specific program requirements.

In our comment letter, ACCC asked CMS for continued flexibility and additional clarity on how the MIPS adjustment will be applied in 2018. ACCC requested that:

  • CMS should continue to offer clinicians maximum flexibility in participating in the QPP, including through broad availability of alternative reporting options such as virtual groups, facility-based scoring, and MIPS APM reporting and scoring.

ACCC urges CMS to continue expanding the use of flexible reporting options that allow clinicians in diverse practices and communities across the country to participate in the QPP. Many ACCC practices are also currently participating in MIPS APMs, such as the Oncology Care Model (OCM), that do not currently qualify for the Advanced APM incentive outlined in the current proposal. ACCC advocates for more flexibility in what qualifies as an advanced APM and a continued flexible approach to allow clinicians to participate in the QPP to the best of their ability and in a manner that reflects the nature and priories of their practice and their patients.

  • CMS should finalize the increase in the low-volume threshold to $90,000 in Part B allowed charges and 200 Part B beneficiaries and clarify that the $90,000 threshold does not include the cost of drugs billed directly by clinicians.

ACCC supports increasing the threshold that exempts clinicians from the QPP based on a low revenue and patient volume because it allows practices with tighter resources to still successfully participate without fear of lower performance scores. We also ask CMS to clarify that the cost of the drugs billed directly by clinicians under Part B will not count towards the revenue threshold.

  • CMS should finalize its proposal to assign a weight of 0% to the cost performance category for CY 2018 and carefully implement the cost score in the future so that clinicians are assessed and scored against their peers and only for the costs of care for which they are responsible.

ACCC supports CMS’ proposal to delay scoring clinicians on cost for 2018 and urges CMS not to impose cost of care payment adjustments without accurate methodology. When considering how to assess cost under MIPS, we hope that CMS will: ensure fair beneficiary attribution for overall cost measures, establish narrowly tailored episode-based measures, apply its discretion  to reweight performance categories, and recognize the variable nature of costs through appropriate risk and specialty adjustments and exclusion of outliers.

  • Importantly, CMS should clarify that MIPS payment adjustments will not apply to Part B payments for drugs billed directly by clinicians.

ACCC strongly opposes applying the MIPS payment adjustment to Part B payments for drugs and urges CMS to clarify that the adjustment will not apply to drug payments. We are concerned that the application of MIPS adjustments to Part B drug payments would represent an unjustified change in agency policy, create incentives for clinicians to focus on cost of treatment rather than whether it is clinically appropriate, and create new barriers to access for patients.  

ACCC will update our membership when we see a final rule from CMS. Read our full comments.

Dietitian as Navigator: A Winning Combination

By Kelay Trentham, MS, RDN, CSO

Compass pointing at answers-SMALLIn cancer care, the use of patient navigators has grown substantially over the past decade. In 2012, the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer added Standard 3.1 requiring that accredited programs have a patient navigation process in place.

While the navigator’s role and responsibilities may vary from institution to institution, clinical navigators typically:

  • assess patients’ clinical, financial, spiritual, and other needs;
  • ensure patients are referred for appropriate supportive care services such as financial counselors, social workers or psychologists, palliative care, and rehab services;
  • provide needed patient education on their disease and its treatment;
  • assist patients in overcoming barriers to care; and
  • assist in discharge and advanced care planning.

Given this list, it may come as no surprise that nurses and social workers are often in navigator roles. Some programs may also employ non-clinical navigators who assist patients with some services, as is the case with the American Cancer Society’s resource navigators, who educate patients about ACS and other community resources. Patient navigation often involves a variety of multidisciplinary team members, with nurse or social work navigators referring patients to physical therapists or dietitians for their specialized care, for example.

For diagnoses that require intensive nutritional support, such as head and neck or esophageal cancer, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) can effectively serve as a patient’s principal navigator, as these patients may see the RDN as often, if not more often, than other team members. In initial medical and radiation oncology consults, these patients are often told that they will need a feeding tube. For many patients, the idea of having or using a feeding tube can be frightening and overwhelming. Prior to receiving feeding tube education, patients may have many concerns such as that the tube is very large and cumbersome, how it might impede normal daily activities, that tube placement is permanent, or that they or their caregiver(s) won’t be able to learn how to use it. Meeting with an RDN for immediate education can allay any fears and concerns about this component of their care plan and reduce distress. In addition, the RDN can reassure patients and caregivers that he or she is available to assist with any questions about using the tube throughout the course of treatment. Further, the RDN navigator can assure the patient that their experience and training places them in a unique position to best advocate for the patient with respect to nutrition support issues.

The RDN’s knowledge base makes this member of the cancer care team an excellent fit for ensuring coordination of care with a patient’s home infusion agency. An RDN navigator can work with the medical team to ensure proper documentation so that enteral feedings are covered by insurance, assist patients with locating donated tube-feeding supplies and formula in the event of limited or a lack of coverage, and work with pharmacy services to get medications converted to crushable or liquid forms for use in feeding tubes. In addition, the RDN navigator would continue to see the patient regularly during the transition from tube feeding back to an oral diet, coordinating care with the speech therapist or surgeon as needed. For example, after esophagectomy, patients experience significant changes in oral diet tolerance and may require considerable education and coaching to adapt to their “new normal.”

Much like the nurse or social worker navigator, the RDN would refer patients to other disciplines when needed, such as to an RN for education about port placement, to a social worker or financial counselor for financial concerns, or to rehabilitation services (physical and/or lymphedema therapy). For some patients, intensive nutrition support may be required from before treatment until long after treatment is completed, making it a central component of care that an RDN is well equipped to navigate.

For cancer patients requiring intensive nutritional support, having an RDN serve as the patient’s navigator can be a winning combination, improving care and the patient experience.


ACCC member Kelay E. Trentham, MS, RDN, CSO, is a past chair of the Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is currently an oncology dietitian at MultiCare Regional Cancer Center in Tacoma, WA.

For more, learn about a weekly outpatient nutrition clinic for head and neck cancer patients developed by 2014 ACCC Innovator Award winner Beaumont Cancer Institute, Royal Oak, MI.

CMS Proposed 2018 Medicare Rules: What Lies Ahead?

By Leah Ralph, Director of Health Policy, ACCC, and Blair Burnett, Policy Analyst, ACCC

Healthcare costsHere in Washington, D.C., as we count down the days remaining in the Congressional August recess, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has reminded us that big changes in healthcare are not limited to the political brinkmanship of ACA repeal. On July 13, 2017, the agency released its CY 2018 proposed Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) and Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) rules. The proposed OPPS rule was the big news this year, signaling major changes may be in store for hospital reimbursement in 2018. The agency is proposing significant reduction in payment for drugs purchased under the 340B Drug Pricing Program and for 2018, CMS is proposing further reimbursement reductions for new off-campus provider-based departments (PBDs).

Holy OPPS!
The 340B Drug Pricing Program, created in 1992, requires drug manufacturers to provide outpatient drugs at a discounted price to eligible healthcare facilities who are generally providing care to a certain percentage of indigent patients. While the 340B program has grown, and reform has been widely debated by policymakers over the past decade, CMS’ rule proposes to fundamentally alter the way providers will get reimbursed for drugs purchased through the program. It’s worth noting though that 340B oversight is under the jurisdiction of the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, and not under CMS purview.

For 2018, under the OPPS CMS proposes to reduce Medicare reimbursement for separately payable drugs without pass-through status purchased through the 340B Program from average sale price (ASP) plus six percent to ASP minus 22.5 percent. Further, because CMS cannot currently identify 340B drugs in Medicare OPPS claims data, CMS also proposes to require that hospitals submitting claims for separately payable drugs not acquired through the 340B program use a modifier on the claim to be reimbursed at ASP plus six percent.

Medicare’s HOP Panel Weighs In
ACCC continues to work through the details of the proposal and meet with policymakers and other stakeholders to put forward meaningful, workable solutions for reforming the 340B program. Most recently, on August 21, ACCC and other stakeholders testified at Medicare’s Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment (HOP) meeting, outlining the deleterious impact this proposal would have on cancer programs participating in the 340B program. (ACCC also testified against the agency’s proposal to related to packaging Level 1 and 2 drug administration services, more on this below.) At the conclusion of the meeting, the HOP Panel voted to recommend to CMS that the agency drop the current proposal to cut 340B payments.

To learn more about CMS’ proposal and ACCC advocacy efforts, join us in Nashville, Oct. 18-20 at the 34th ACCC National Oncology Conference.

And There’s More
Another significant proposed change relates to packaging of drug administration services. Currently CMS excludes packaging of low-cost drug administration services (i.e., costing less than or equal to $100) from the ancillary services packaging policy. For 2018, the agency is proposing to package Level 1 and 2 drug administration services when these services are performed with another separately payable service, but pay for them separately when performed alone. CMS believes that this “conditional” packaging of drug administration services will promote equitable payment between physician offices and hospital outpatient departments. ACCC disagrees with the agency’s rationale and will be urging CMS not to finalize this policy.

Opportunity to Comment on 14-Day Rule
In the 2018 proposed OPPS rule, CMS is also soliciting comments on the “14-Day Rule.”  This is a policy that determines when a hospital may bill Medicare for a clinical diagnostic laboratory test versus when the laboratory performing the test may bill Medicare directly. CMS is considering potential modifications to the “14-Day Rule” that would allow labs to bill Medicare directly for molecular pathology tests and advanced diagnostic laboratory tests. ACCC played an active role in requesting that this policy be reopened for public comment.

Moving to the Proposed 2018 PFS Rule: CMS Proposes Change to Site-Neutral Payment
For 2018, CMS is proposing to further reduce reimbursement for non-excepted off-campus provider-based departments (PBDs). [Notably, this provision is included in the PFS proposed rule, despite impacting facilities traditionally billing under the OPPS, because in 2017, the PFS was the “applicable payment system” for these non-excepted PBDs and CMS reimbursed them under the PFS at non-facility rates.] Read on for details.

In the 2018 PFS  rule, CMS  proposes to significantly change last year’s site-neutral payment policy and further reduce reimbursement for non-excepted off-campus provider-based departments (PBDs). In general, these are entities that began billing Medicare as an off-campus PBD after November 2015.  For these non-excepted PBDs, the agency is proposing to decrease payment from 50% to 25% of OPPS rates. The agency is basing this proposed rate reduction on a comparison of payment rates for clinic and office visits under both payment systems (i.e., the OPPS and PFS). CMS expressed concern that paying 50% of the OPPS rate might result in payments for items and services that are greater than would otherwise be paid to physician offices under the PFS. Early analysis by ACCC, however, shows that reimbursement at 25% of OPPS will be well below PFS rates for certain services.

Of note: In the proposed rule, CMS does not address whether the payment reduction for drugs acquired under the 340B Program or the modifier for drugs not acquired under that program would apply to these non-excepted office-campus provider-based departments

More on the 2018 Proposed PFS Rule
While, overall, the Physician Fee Schedule was fairly quiet this year, one notable provision is CMS’ approach to payment for biosimilars. For 2018, the agency is proposing to continue its approach (from 2016) that biosimilars will generally share a single HCPCS code and that these products will be grouped into the same payment calculation for the purposes of determining a single ASP payment limit. While CMS isn’t officially opening this policy for comments, the agency requests feedback on how this already-implemented policy will impact the ability to create a competitive marketplace and encourage innovation in the biosimilars market.

Big Picture
Overall, CMS estimates that OPPS payments will increase by nearly two percent next year (except for the impact of the 340B proposal), while under the proposed PFS, payment rates will see no change for hematology/oncology and a one percent increase for radiation oncology in 2018.

Let Us Hear From You
CMS is taking comments on both the OPPS and PFS CY 2018 Proposed Rules through Sept. 11, 2017, and, importantly, also seeking open-ended comments from the public on policies that would maintain flexibility and efficiencies in the Medicare program while reducing unnecessary burdens for clinicians and patients. ACCC is busy drafting its comments and we want to hear from you. Please contact Leah Ralph, Health Policy Director, at lralph@accc-cancer.org with your input. We also encourage you to submit comments directly to CMS at regulations.gov.

 

Taking Lung Cancer Screening on the Road

Carolinas HealthCare System, Levine Cancer Institute will be honored with a 2017 Innovator Award at the ACCC 34th National Oncology Conference in Nashville, in October, for their development of the first mobile CT unit for lung cancer screening in the U.S., bringing state-of-the-art technology to rural communities. 

By Mellisa Wheeler, BSW, MHA, and Derek Raghavan, MD, PhD

As the oncology community is well aware, despite improvements to the early diagnosis, systemic immunotherapies, and gene-directed treatments of lung cancer, mortality rates remain high for this disease. A number of factors underlie this high death rate: the nature and natural history of the disease itself, poor access to care among continuing and recent smokers, lack of health education, fiscal and cultural issues, social stigma, and geographical isolation, among others. When patients present with Stage 1 (localized) lung cancer, surgical cure is possible in more than 50% of cases; when patients present with metastatic disease, for practical purposes, cure is highly unlikely.

Given that geographical isolation and barriers to care access are such important determinants of outcome, the Levine Cancer Institute sought to develop a program that would help to identify and eliminate barriers in high-risk and underserved communities.

Supported by a grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and in collaboration with Samsung and Frazerbilt, Levine Cancer Institute has developed the first mobile CT lung cancer screening unit in the United States.

Our mobile screening vehicle consists of a conventional low-dose Samsung CT unit mounted onto a robust, well-sprung truck body, with a built-in clinical space.  Initial testing has demonstrated the fidelity of the unit, as well as the lack of impact of on- and off-road transportation on the functionality and image quality of the scanner.

We have also created a mechanism for electronic image transfer for reporting at a central location by the staff of partner radiology groups like Charlotte Radiology, Stanly Imaging, and Shelby Radiological Associates. Watch our video and learn more.

The entire program, one of several lung cancer projects of different types supported by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, is directed toward underserved and under-privileged populations. Our program includes several social components, including outreach and education on lung cancer screening for local physicians, nurse navigation and education, patient outreach with smoking cessation programs, and meticulous follow-up to avoid the loss of patients with identified lesions. Carolinas HealthCare System, the largest safety-net health organization in the Carolinas, has committed to providing optimal care to any patients shown to have lesions requiring further investigation, irrespective of their ability to pay; this care includes follow-up and repeat scanning; biopsy; and surgical, radiation, or systemic treatment.

We have already identified cases of early stage disease that have been directed towards definitive and hopefully curative treatment. In addition to the potential to improve patient outcomes, surgical treatment of early stage lung cancer is far less costly to the community than palliating the disease via systemic therapy. Through our program, we anticipate much improved outcomes for lung cancer treatment at a substantially reduced cost in the community.


Mellisa Wheeler, BSW, MHA, is Disparities & Outreach Manager, Levine Cancer Institute, and Derek Raghavan, MD, PhD, FACP, FRACP, is President, Levine Cancer Institute, Carolinas HealthCare System.

Hear details on the Levine Cancer Institute lung screening program and see their mobile CT unit at the ACCC 34th National Oncology Conference in Nashville, Oct. 18-20. Browse the full agenda.

 

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. 

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.