A primer on the role of drug access navigators

Among the sessions at the 2018 Employers Cancer Care Summit was a primer on the role and services of a drug access navigator in allowing patients to focus on their health while undergoing treatment.

Speaking to the crowd at Toronto’s One King West hotel of Feb. 27, Alana Bourke, a drug access navigator and registered pharmacy technician at St. Michael’s Hospital, illustrated how someone in that role can help patients undergoing cancer treatments to focus on getting healthy rather than the hurdles associated with accessing medication.

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“The [navigator] will support patients, caregivers and health-care teams in securing financial coverage to critically needed medications, by maximizing the appropriate funding options available to that specific patient,” said Bourke.

Navigators, she added, “typically have a background in pharmacy, but there are many . . . that have a background in social work as well. Cancer centres in Ontario appear to be moving towards more of a pharmacy-trained [drug access navigator] due to the increasing complexity of the therapies and the drug coverage system in general.”

Bourke also spoke of how cancer treatments and the Canadian payer environment have changed in the last few years, with patients able to access medicines that target their disease more effectively. While the medications have led to improved quality of life and rates of remission, they’re often more expensive than the standard treatments.

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Bourke noted many of the new therapies for cancer involve oral treatments or self-injection.

“With the shift in drug development and treatment available as an outpatient, patients are relying heavily on private drug plans and patient assistance programs to assist them in their journey through recovery from their cancer diagnosis,” said Bourke. “There are many reasons for this, including, but not limited to, the lengthy process associated with public funding decisions and the criteria, with the added knowledge that the drug may not be considered for potential funding at all.”

Bourke also spoke of patient assistance programs, which provide services to patients with complex conditions that require high-cost medications, as well as the importance of private plans.

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“From experience, the path to accessing the right cancer treatment is a much smoother and successful journey when there’s a private plan to work with. The added value of the private drug plan is related to extensive formularies. There’s a shorter review window with regards to funding decisions and lower premiums than the public plan deductibles,” she said.

Bourke added that patient assistance programs are valuable to employers and employees because of the level of customization around specific drugs.

“Patient assistance programs are a vital service, which benefit the plan member and sponsor by supporting positive health outcomes, overall health and wellness and productivity in the workplace,” she said.

Read more coverage of the 2018 Employers Cancer Care Summit here