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Strategies for Improving Access to Community Oncology

April 7, 2023

In the United States, the shift to value-based cancer care will define the future of community oncology. Community cancer networks will be vital to providing access to expert, affordable, and personalized care to every cancer patient, no matter their background or situation.


What Is Community Oncology?


Community oncology consists of private oncology practices providing cancer treatments outside hospital, academic, or institutional settings. These care centers serve over 55 percent of cancer patients in rural, metropolitan, and urban areas throughout the United States. They provide local access to affordable, high-quality, integrated care that helps patients stay close to their family and friends as they receive treatment. Some practices are independently owned, standalone clinics, while others may include a group of offices owned by a collective of healthcare professionals. Community oncology centers may be staffed by doctors, oncologists, nurses, pharmacists, technicians, radiographers, and other healthcare professionals. By emphasizing a value-based model of care, community oncology helps payers cut costs while providing patients with better, more integrated care.


What Are the Challenges Associated With Access to Oncology Services?


Many low-income, aging, unemployed, and minority patients lack the social support, health literacy, and sufficient insurance coverage they need to access appropriate oncological care. Linguistic barriers, ethnicity, educational deficiencies, and low socioeconomic status can make it difficult for these patients to communicate with doctors and healthcare professionals. Patients with difficulty finding care may face screening inequities, late-stage diagnoses, and inadequate treatment processes. Targeted assistance can help promote better outcomes and survival rates for underrepresented patients who suffer from common and complex cancers.


What Strategies Can Improve Access to Oncology Services in a Community?


To improve access to quality care while enhancing oncological service, community leaders and healthcare providers should be working to boost affordable primary and evidence-based care options and help all residents stay healthy. Strategies that can improve access to oncology services include the following:


Educate and Create Community Awareness


Local leaders can hold community events and create media campaigns promoting regular exercise, healthy eating, and other lifestyle choices that lower cancer risk.


Provide Access to Primary and Preventative Care


When patients gain access to primary and evidence-based preventative care, they are more likely to make lifestyle changes and become aware of their own cancer risks. Doctors and healthcare professionals can help patients receive timely access to necessary screenings while providing referrals to specialty care as soon as cancer is suspected or detected.


Coordinate Care and Communication


Healthcare providers should learn and be trained to communicate effectively with their patients while being aware and considerate of the patient’s values, needs, and desired outcomes. Coordinated communication between patients and their healthcare providers can help prevent primary and specialist care gaps.


Promote Affordable Care


Healthcare providers, government agencies, cancer-fighting organizations, and community members can advocate for affordable care that benefits patients, keeps costs low, and reduces the effects of cancer on society.


Successful Community Initiatives Improve Access to Oncology Services


When the United States Congress passed the Cancer Care Planning and Communications Act (CCPCA) of 2021, they provided Medicare patients with coverage that helps them plan and coordinate their oncological care. The act involves patients in treatment and survivorship care plans that help them recover and resume normal lives while promoting shared decision-making. Another successful initiative is the California Cancer Care Equity Act, which took effect on January 1, 2023. This act expands access to specialized oncological care for Medi-Cal patients diagnosed with complex cancer. It ensures that more cancer patients receive equitable and timely access to appropriate, high-quality cancer care. In addition, patients across the country can benefit from a multilingual patient and caregiver support provided through the American Cancer Society’s website.


How Can Healthcare Providers Improve Access to Oncology Services?


Healthcare providers and community leaders can improve access to local oncology services by working with government and private organizations to fund cancer care. The American Cancer Society, CancerCare, and the United Way are just a few organizations that work to improve access to oncology services across the United States. Individuals can contact these agencies to find resources and advocate for better local oncological care.


Improving Access to Oncological Care Promotes Community Health and Wellness

As cancer care evolves, physician-owned, value-based oncology practices will play a key role in the future of oncology. Every oncology practice can contribute to providing better access to cancer care while supporting the health of their community.