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Learning Lab Focuses on Better Integration of Patient Financial Advocacy Services

July 15, 2019
Hand moving in missing puzzle piece

As the cancer care landscape changes and treatment costs continue to rise, many cancer programs are revisiting their financial advocacy services. More than just adding financial advocates to their staff, cancer programs are integrating their financial services into their continuum of care to ensure patients have adequate access to the treatments they require. This two-part blog explores the ACCC Financial Advocacy Learning Lab held at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

The ACCC Financial Advocacy Network recently traveled to three member programs to conduct customized Learning Labs to explore strategies that can better integrate financial services for patients. Established in 2012, the ACCC Financial Advocacy Network provides tools, resources, and training to help member programs and practices proactively address their patients’ financial concerns.

In December 2018, ACCC brought a Learning Lab to Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) in Nashville, Tenn., a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. VICC is home to a team of more than 200 physicians who provide care to more than 7,000 new cancer patients each year, and it provides financial advocacy services to more than 40 patients per week.

The Learning Lab in Action
Nearly 30 members from VICC participated in the Learning Lab, including stakeholders from research and clinical trials, pharmacy, nursing, patient care services, finance, business, administration, patient navigators and financial counselors.

Before the half-day Learning Lab, VICC participants identified three main barriers they say hinder them from providing optimal financial advocacy services to all patients who need it:

  • An insufficient number of dedicated financial advocates, counselors and navigators;
  • Delayed or inconsistent assessments of patient financial needs; and
  • Ineffective processes for tracking the results of the cancer center’s financial advocacy activities.

During discussions held at the Learning Lab, participants reviewed VICC’s baseline financial advocacy data and discussed the cancer center’s current financial advocacy practices. They identified gaps and barriers and developed a process improvement plan to address these issues. Learning Lab participants determined the need to:

  • Expand their proactive financial outreach services by reaching patients at the beginning of their cancer journey and helping them navigate throughout their entire course of treatment. While VICC has workflows in place to provide cost estimates to patients who have out-of-network insurance and to identify patients with no insurance, they do not always reach out to new patients before their first appointment to identify and address any financial barriers to their care.
  • Reach out to all patients, regardless of evident financial need: Participants determined that VICC’s financial advocacy services should reach out not only to patients who qualify for assistance, but also to patients with insurance coverage to make them aware of available resources.
  • Keep patients apprised of financial application status: Learning Lab participants committed to creating individual financial plans so patients are kept up to date on the status of any applications for assistance. Participants agreed on the need to develop a process improvement plan to establish effective application tracking methods.
  • Maintain effective and transparent documentation across teams: This would aid in the coordination of functions between billing staff and financial counselors.

Three months after VICC’s Financial Advocacy Network Learning Lab, participants met with stakeholders and leadership to report on their efforts to take a more proactive approach to financial advocacy. Learn what they accomplished in our next blog post.