Premera helps cancer patients make informed choices

By Dr. Ted Conklin
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
Photo by Premera Blue Cross

Hearing “I’m sorry, it’s cancer,” isn’t just difficult. It’s a life-changing moment. 

Making informed treatment choices can feel as overwhelming as the diagnosis. It’s easy, and common, to go to whomever your doctor recommends. 

What if you and your doctor had information that helped you better understand your options before deciding where to get your cancer care? 

That’s what the groundbreaking “Community Cancer Care in Washington State: Quality and Cost Report” does. Premera Blue Cross was one of several healthcare stakeholders to help support the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research (HICOR) with the report.

Combining data from state cancer registries and claims data from four Washington health insurance companies, the report reveals care and cost variances among clinics based on cancer type and cancer stage. Until now, this type of information wasn’t public or available anywhere in the country.   

For healthcare providers, this report helps them learn about opportunities from one another for improving cancer care and quality of life for their patients.

For patients, the report can help inform choices and support conversations with healthcare providers about cancer care. When patients are newly diagnosed with cancer, they often forget they have options. Patients can ask questions and make care decisions based on what’s important to them in their treatment, such as staying out of the hospital and emergency department during chemotherapy or deciding under what circumstances they might want to engage with hospice end-of-life care. 

As a family doctor, I remember doing this with one of my patients, a man with metastatic prostate cancer. He designed his cancer journey with me, including what types of therapies he was interested in to slow the progression of his disease, how to manage his pain, and how he would be able to accomplish his key goals for the remainder of his life. He was able to do that, including coming to my home because he wanted to read to my children. 

When a patient says, “What are my options?” they don’t just mean treatment options. It means how they’re going to live their life. They don’t want to be bankrupt. They want to be sure their family’s finances are taken care of, and they want to know what opportunities they have to spend quality time with their family. Our job is to give people the information they need to make the choices that are right for them. 

Premera’s purpose is to improve customers’ lives by making healthcare work better. For patients, the report can help them consider the cost and how well a cancer care provider is performing against key evidence-based care guidelines:

  • Following treatment recommendations for breast, colon, and lung cancer
  • Emergency department visits and inpatient hospitalizations during chemotherapy
  • Follow-up testing after treatment
  • Planning for end-of-life care 

Through HICOR, Premera collaborated with other health insurance plans, cancer care providers, patient partners, researchers, healthcare quality groups, policymakers, and state government leaders. It’s our hope that the transparent data will create conversations between healthcare providers, employers, and payers that improves the quality of life for our patients and their families. Quality of life can be linked to cost and quality of care. 

Dr. Ted Conklin is the Vice President of Collaborative Healthcare Solutions at Premera Blue Cross.
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