ASCO Task Force Identifies Ways to Support Oncology Clinicians, Underserved Patients with Cancer

February 14, 2024

The American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) Serving the Underserved Task Force shared survey results on February 14 that provide insight on oncology professionals’ experiences and strategies to support their work caring for underserved populations. Survey respondents, which included 462 oncology professionals, also expressed the need for a return-on-investment model to support personnel, integrated health-related social needs screening, and collaborating with ASCO on advocacy and policy.

The Task Force was created in 2020 to address the lack of data on cancer care delivery among underserved populations, identify barriers and facilitators for care delivery to underserved populations, and propose solutions based on oncology professionals’ experiences. It also addresses patients’ social and economic needs, and other ways to support oncology professionals, including personnel such as social workers and patient navigators.

This was the first national U.S.-based survey assessing barriers and solutions of oncology professionals in their care delivery for underserved patients with cancer. The survey, which was administered from May to August 2022, looked at several areas: respondent demographics; experience caring for underserved populations including estimated full-time equivalent effort devoted to the care of underserved populations; clinical practice characteristics; sociodemographic characteristics of patients cared for in the past year including race, ethnicity, insurance, and health literacy level; clinic-based processes to identify and coordinate care for health-related social services; and strategies for support and engagement with ASCO.

Additionally, this survey builds on the Task Force’s previous findings which revealed the barriers and facilitators oncologists encountered when delivering care to underserved populations.

Key survey findings include:

  • Social workers coordinated a majority of health-related social services such as transportation, food, housing, mental health services, financial counseling, childcare, and employment.
  • Lack of affordable, accessible mental health services among underserved patients with cancer, and the vital need for integrated, trained staff to deliver quality care in under-resourced settings.
  • Respondents relied on best guesses or estimates to report on the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of their patient population, highlighting the need for consistent, reliable data collection which would in turn help to evaluate many aspects of care and return-on-investment of staffing models or intervention strategies.
  • Integrating validated screening and intervention tools for health-related social needs is crucial, including the integration of such tools in electronic health records.
  • Resource allocations should include consideration of integrating social services, public health, mental health, and community partnerships into clinical practice.

“These results emphasize the critical need for partnerships between clinicians serving the underserved and professional societies such as ASCO, who may advocate for policies to address inequitable care delivery such as payment models that support data collection of health-related social needs. They may also advocate for reimbursement aligned with health equity measures, as well as resources to support personnel such as social workers, navigators, and community health workers,” said Manali I. Patel, MD, lead author of the study and Co-Chair of ASCO’s Serving the Underserved Task Force.

ASCO will continue to promote efforts and policies around achieving equity in cancer care for all patients with cancer, including assessing and addressing clinician burnout, a factor we found to be prevalent among survey participants, but not formally covered by this survey, she said.

Read the full report.

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