A long-awaited tool has been developed by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) to assist patients in evaluating and comparing the costs and benefits of different cancer therapies. As oncology treatment becomes increasingly diverse and expensive, patients require more precise and calculated evaluation of treatment options, including an understanding of both the risks and benefits, as well as the potential financial costs associated with their treatment options. A Reuters Health article discusses how, despite increases in effective medicine for cancer treatment, patients often find themselves struggling to deal with increasing premiums, co-payments, and deductibles. The new tool is designed to give patients a way to gauge the value of the various cancer treatment options available to them.
The NCCN is one of the premier sources of oncology advancement and education, according to Reuters. It is comprised of 26 cancer centers. The NCCN’s new tool will supplement the group’s already-accepted guidelines on oncology care. The current guidelines utilize a number of factors including diagnosis, stage, and more general information like the patient’s age.
The new tool is expected to be released in mid-October 2015 and utilizes an instrument called “evidence blocks.” Evidence blocks look at five measurable aspects of cancer treatment and rates them; including price, effectiveness, safety, quality, and consistency of clinical data. The service will initially be launched for use in treating cases of multiple myeloma and chronic myeloid leukemia. It is expected that the tool will expand to include a broader variety of modules by the end of 2016.
The new evaluation tool is also expected to assist with increasing the consistency found in prescribing behaviors across the nation. Different doctors often have different procedures and processes in mind for treating a patient, but the tool is expected to standardize the knowledge and published data on the subject.
Reuters mentions that some pharmaceutical companies have expressed concerns that data from the NCCN will be far too strong of a force in influencing insurance companies’ decisions on what treatments to cover. The NCCN’s chief executive is quoted as saying “[a] company that has an effective drug that’s appropriately priced should welcome the [new tool].”
The NCCN is indeed a strong force. Six million copies of its guidelines were downloaded just last year.
The movement toward more cost effective and precise care is gaining momentum in the U.S. And, while doctors’ decisions regarding the care of their patients can be influenced by pharmaceutical company incentives, tools like the NCCN may prove to be a strong step in the direction of greater accountability, greater transparency, and a higher level of care than was previously available. It is that drive forward that should be the goal of any world-class health system.