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Cancer Centers Rebounding From COVID-19 Can Grow By Making the Most of New Technologies for Clinical Trials

For community cancer centers that rely on patient reimbursement to stay afloat, a smart data-driven approach to clinical trials provides a foundation for future growth.

Brenda Noggy
Dr. Tandy Tipps

By TANDY TIPPS and BRENDA NOGGY

Covid-19’s tragic, devastating impact on cancer treatment is now well documented. Cancer screenings dropped by almost 90 percent at the peak of the pandemic. Billing for some leading cancer medications dropped 30 percent last summer. Studies found a 60 percent decrease in new clinical trials for cancer drugs and biological therapies.

Cancer centers, like every part of the US health system, have a lot of ground to make up. Those community cancer centers without grants and other institutional advancement funds, experience financial and human resources as major constraints to charting a path to growth. For them, successful programs which generate revenues for expansion or break even help them maintain fiscal health. Often, unfortunately, too often their research programs lose money.

Clinical trials have not been a viable revenue source because of the difficulty in accurately predicting patient enrollment and the challenges of managing trial portfolios, a task that requires streamlined feasibility processes that include querying baseline populations for new trials and potentially eligible patients.

The hard work of patient screening and trial matching requires clinical coordinators, physician investigators and research support staff to spend between three to eight manually scouring databases of electronic medical records and unstructured files to find patients eligible for trials based on increasingly complex inclusion and exclusion criteria. This costly process does not take into consideration the pre-screening efforts in patient matching that may not be reimbursable.

Resources are also needed to implement feasibility processes to accurately predict how many patients might enroll in a trial if they are eligible. Most community-based sites do not have an accurate ability to query their current patient populations by disease cohort or mutation in real time. They often rely on physicians’ memories to estimate patient numbers for trial feasibility questionnaires, which must returned to sponsors quickly, usually before cancer centers have definitive recruitment numbers.

As a result, before COVID, an average of only 5 percent of patients had a chance of participating in trials, 50 percent of clinical trials failed to meet enrollment goals and less than 14 percent were completed on time. Cancer centers still incur the administrative and clinical resources required to maintain the protocols in the first place, however.

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