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Ensuring Access to Cancer Care Through Community Oncology

January 26, 2023

Community care is a key component in achieving future oncology patients’ needs. A community cancer center allows patients to get compassionate, personalized care at a convenient location. For a private oncology practice to grow, it needs to understand current trends in the industry and what the future of oncology will look like.


What Is Community Oncology?


Community oncology is part of ongoing oncology trends. In essence, it is when someone is treated at a physician-owned business that is not a part of a hospital or academic institution. The smallest treatment centers have just one oncologist on staff, but a private oncology practice can have more than 100 oncologists.


What Percentage of Cancer Patients Are Treated in the Community?


More than 80 percent of patients with cancer want to be treated in a community cancer center. In practice, nearly 55 percent of patients receive treatment in a community setting. The remaining patients are treated at hospitals, teaching institutions, and research centers.


What Are the Benefits of Community Oncology?


As part of the future oncology patient’s needs, community-based centers provide a range of valuable benefits. For instance, this oncology practice can generally treat patients for a much lower cost than a hospital. Because of the center’s size, patients can receive truly personalized care. At some centers, every nurse, receptionist, and oncologist know each patient by name.


Patients at community centers may get better care than patients at hospitals because of the way community centers use multidisciplinary teams. In one study, lung cancer patients were a third more likely to survive the next five years if treated through a multidisciplinary team. For gastrointestinal cancers, team-based care increased the accuracy of diagnoses.


Rural patients benefit from a community-based oncology practice because they can access care in the community where they live and work. This convenient location can reduce hospital admissions and emergency room (ER) trips. In addition, patients can access ancillary services, like social workers, financial counselors, and other professionals.


What Challenges Are Faced in Community Oncology?


To remain a part of the future of oncology, community-based practices will have to overcome some of the challenges the oncology community faces. Unrealistic expectations, misuse of medical resources, and incentive issues are just a few of the most common problems. Many community-based organizations deal with the following issues.


  • Because the margins on chemotherapy are higher, insurance companies incentivize medical practices to prescribe chemotherapy. This same issue happens with other treatments as well.
  • Insurers and other factors can lead to the overuse or misuse of resources.
  • Patients may have unrealistic expectations about how much a treatment or test will benefit them. For instance, some patients may push for chemotherapy because they have heard it is used for other cancers, but it may not benefit their specific form of cancer.
  • Depending on the location, the oncology practice may face various legal and regulatory obstacles.
  • According to a survey of 200 cancer centers, electronic health records (EHRs) were the biggest information technology challenge. 80 percent of treatment centers said that their EHR system increased their workload.

How Are Those Challenges Overcome?


None of the challenges facing the future of oncology have simple, straightforward solutions. Rethinking insurance incentives can help change the way certain medical practices are incentivized. To prevent incentives from impacting treatment decisions, treatment centers can create a more significant separation between the people who make medical decisions and the billing department.


While conversations about expectations and benefits can help patients understand the treatment process, training programs and new policies can help employees properly use resources. Other training programs and policies can help employees learn how to comply with the region’s regulatory framework. Finally, better EHR systems and training on using these systems can reduce the time employees waste on inputting electronic records.


Navigating Oncology Trends


While community-based programs offer a number of benefits, there are challenges as well. The success of this business model depends on each center’s ability to navigate oncology trends. With the right policies, training programs, and technology, cancer care centers will play a vital role in the future of oncology.