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Medicare Oncology Care Model: Opportunities for Social Work Participation

By Fran Becker, LCSW, OSW-C


December 21, 2016
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The oncology community continues to follow developments with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) Oncology Care Model (OCM), a program that aims to improve patient care, efficiency, effectiveness, and lower costs.

As participating cancer programs implement the changes mandated by the OCM, increased responsibilities for social work are clear.  In fact, under the model, the involvement of, and coordination with, social work is needed in a number of areas.

The OCM mandates that all patients receive patient navigation and supportive services during their treatment. These services encompass assistance in a number of areas, including financial, transportation, and facilitation of follow-up services.

As a component of the OCM, Medicare is requiring the documentation of a comprehensive Care Management Plan described in the National Academies (formerly, known as the Institute of Medicine) report, Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis. All patients are to receive a care plan consisting of 13 items.  Among these, there are two areas that call for social work services:

Advance Care Plans – Social work has been involved in these conversations for some time in many settings. In fact, Medicare has revised payment policies to include advance care planning (CPT code 99497; add-on CPT code 99498). While the physician is the primary provider in advance care planning conversations, members of the cancer care team, including social work and other allied healthcare professionals, have an opportunity to be involved in these conversations

Distress Screening – Another important requirement under the OCM is screening for depression during each episode of care. As part of the patient’s care plan, OCM participants are required to screen and document a plan to address a patient’s psychosocial health needs. While many cancer programs screen for distress using the NCCN Distress Thermometer, Medicare has determined that this tool is not sufficient to screen for depression under the OCM, and asks OCM participants to use the PHQ-2 and PHQ-9 for depression screening.  The PHQ-2 self-report asks two questions to determine if a more extensive evaluation is needed.  If the patient scores at a three or above, the patient is asked to complete the lengthier PHQ-9.  During this meeting, if the patient screens in for depression, social work involvement escalates.  Social work has several options for helping patients, including offering counseling services in-house or referral to an outside agency, referral to the patient’s primary care provider, oncologist, or a psychiatrist. Even if the program is providing clinical social work services, follow-up on these referrals is needed to ensure patients follow through. In addition, social work is required to follow the patient to assess improvement or the need for additional services.

Social workers play an important role in helping OCM participating programs succeed under this innovative new model. Practices that are not participating in the OCM should do a self-assessment in terms of their social work capabilities, and their ability to support patients’ psychosocial health needs. As signaled through CMMI’s inclusion of social work and patient navigation services in the OCM model, this holistic approach to cancer treatment is sure to be the future of oncology care.

If you are a participating OCM practice, be sure to join ACCC’s OCM Collaborative, an online community of OCM practices sharing best practices, tools, and tips to succeed in the OCM. Join today.


Guest blogger Fran Becker, LCSW, OSW-C, is manager of Cancer Support Services, Carl & Dorothy Bennett Cancer Center, Stamford Hospital, and a past member of the ACCC Board of Trustees.

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