Tag Archives: oral oncology nurse navigator

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.