Data from the 2018 Practice Impact Report shows that, over the past decade, 1,653 community oncology clinics and/or practices have closed, been acquired by hospitals, undergone corporate mergers, or reported they are struggling financially.
The mission of Community Oncology Alliance (COA) is to ensure cancer patients receive quality, affordable, and accessible cancer care in their own communities. More than 1.5 million people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year, and deaths from the disease have been steadily declining due to earlier detection, diagnosis and treatment.
Dayton Physicians Network (DPN) is the premiere independent cancer treatment clinic in the Miami Valley. It’s not at risk of closing, and that’s due, in large part, to its partnership with COA and the advocacy work being done since the DPN COA Patient Advocacy Network Chapter (CPAN) opened locally three years ago.
As of January 2019, according to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 17 million Americans survived cancer, and the majority of them are being treated in independent treatment centers, said Rose Gerber, director of patient advocacy and education for the Community Oncology Alliance.
With independent treatment centers, patients receive highly personalized care. This isn’t just for the primary care when the patients are receiving cancer treatments, but also for the five-year follow-along period after the completion of treatment. Patients see the same doctors and nurses – even the receptionist is consistent. This is important, because beating cancer is an experience unique to each individual.
“Treating cancer isn’t just physical, it’s emotional,” Gerber said. “The continuity of care in the same setting is very important to patients.”
In a hospital setting, patients are often meeting new care providers each time they receive treatment, Gerber said. In this environment, the continuum of care is difficult to maintain. When you receive your care through independent centers, the doctors and nurses live in the community, might be the coach of a local little league team, and can often be seen in church on Sunday.
“Is that a part of your clinical care? No, but it matters to patients,” Gerber said.
Not only is the care received through an independent cancer treatment centers intimately personal, there are other benefits, as well. Care in independent centers is typically less costly. These centers are highly accessible, with patients parking and walking right in, allowing them to avoid garages and other challenges that come with care providers in larger settings. Independent centers are part of the community, typically featuring multiple locations found throughout the area. Dayton Physicians has 12 locations from Greenville to Middletown.
Federal policies related to reimbursement procedures have a big impact on independent treatment centers. Without proper reimbursement, independent centers can’t stay open. COA provides independent cancer centers, like Dayton Physicians, with resources to advocate for the specific needs of cancer patients and for the support the centers require to remain operational.
Utilizing national and chapter-based events, policymaker meetings, networking opportunities, webinars and articles, COA’s Patient Advocacy Network (CPAN) provides an advocacy outlet for survivors and a voice that allows them to speak on behalf of patients and the need for independent treatment centers.
Recently, Dayton Physicians held a “sit in my chair” congressional meeting, where representatives from Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s office were able to experience being a cancer patient. Events like this help raise awareness among policy makers about the importance of maintaining patient access to independent care centers.
During mid-September, Dayton Physicians CEO, Robert Baird, Jr., RN, MSA, CASC, joined the rest of the COA Board of Directors in Washington, D.C., along with other community oncology practices and professionals from across the country. The group came together to tell Congress that patient assistance programs are critically important, need-based lifelines for cancer patients.
If you or someone you love hasn’t experienced cancer, you’re not only lucky, you may not understand the importance of making sure independent community cancer care remains available. COA knows how important independent community cancer treatment centers are and they are dedicated to making keeping doors open and fighting cancer one patient at a time.
“Dayton’s Physicians Network isn’t fighting for high-quality, affordable patient care alone – they are part of a national network of CPAN chapters across the country advocating for that care,” Gerber said.