Support to cancer patients outside hospital a ‘critical’ issue

Improvements in cancer treatments are driving patients out of hospital beds and back into their own homes.

“Cancer is now a treatable, chronic disease. With these new therapies, we’re seeing a paradigm shift and a difference in the way patients are being treated,” Sandra Salama Anderson, vice-president of consulting and business development at Innomar Strategies Inc., told the audience at Benefits Canada’s 2017 Employers Cancer Care Summit in February.

But that medical revolution demands an equivalent shakeup in the approach to patient support, Anderson noted.

Read: Exclusive research results: How do employees with cancer feel about their benefit plans?

A decade ago, she said, cancer patients underwent most of their regimen hooked up to intravenous chemotherapy treatment in specialized cancer centres. Over the years, some of the care migrated to community clinics, before the advent of take-home medication allowed patients to administer their own treatments either orally or by self-injection.

The majority of cancer drugs currently working their way through the approvals process will be of the take-home variety, said Anderson, predicting that oral oncology medication is “definitely going to be a common theme” in the coming years.

The explosion in the market for oral cancer drugs that patients can take themselves at home is great news for employers, she said.

“Plan members can contribute greatly to the private workforce. We work with a lot of patients who are working and being treated at the same time,” said Anderson.

Read: Immuno-oncology show promise but cost concerns loom

However, Anderson explained that as care moves out of cancers centres and hospitals, patients miss out on the institutional supports that come with them.

“What kind of support the patient can have outside the hospital setting is critical,” she said.

According to Anderson, patient support programs can guide people all the way from drug prescription to the end of their treatment and all points in between, including help with co-ordinating insurance coverage and dispensing drugs.

“The goal of the program is to help facilitate this journey and make it easier for the patient,” she said.

When patients bring their drugs home, it can be hard for physicians to keep track of their adherence to the prescribed course, as well as any interactions with other medications the person may be taking.

Some programs tackle the issue by including a nursing case manager who checks up on patients.

Read: An employee’s experience with the workplace during cancer treatment

In one case, a woman stopped taking her medication because it gave her a rash. The patient’s nurse manager was able to talk her through the importance of sticking to her therapy and let her treating physician know about the problem. At her next consultation, she was prescribed an anti-histamine that stopped the drug reaction.

“If she didn’t have someone to speak to at home, that might never have happened,” said Anderson.