Editor’s Note: This is the fifth and final installment of a five-part monthly series that will discuss the biologic, genomic, and health system factors that contribute to the racial survival disparity in breast cancer. The series was adapted from an article that originally appeared in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians,1 a journal of the American Cancer Society.
As discussed in the last installment of this series, multifaceted interventions that address all stakeholders are needed to close the racial disparity gap in breast cancer. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) emphasizes delivery system reform with a focus on the triple aim of better health, better health care, and lower costs.2 One component of this reform will be accountable care organizations (ACOs). ACOs potentially could assist in closing the racial mortality gap, because provider groups will take responsibility for improving the health of a defined population and will be held accountable for the quality of care delivered.
In the ACO model, an integrated network of providers, led by primary care practitioners, will evaluate the necessity, quality, value, and accountable delivery of specialty diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, including cancer care.3 ACOs will also collect extensive patient data through the meaningful use of medical records.3 These detailed data can then be used to shape locoregional protocols for clinical decision making in oncology and evaluate physician performance. Intermountain Healthcare is an example of an organization that has had success with instituting these clinical protocols to highlight best practices and improve the quality of care.4 In breast cancer, oncologists will need to be prepared to develop and follow protocols tailored for their communities, which will lead to standardized, improved care for minority populations.
The oncology medical home is one example of an ACO delivery system reform that has the potential to reduce the racial mortality gap. The oncology medical home replaces episodic care with long-term coordinated care and replaces the fee-for-service model with a performance and outcomes-based system. A key trait of the oncology medical home is care that is continuously improved by measurement against quality standards.5 The model oncology home accomplishes this by incorporating software to extract clinical data as well as provider compliance with locoregional guidelines to give oncologists feedback regarding the quality of care that they are providing.6 Through this system reform, oncologists will be held accountable for the care they deliver, and it is hoped that this will eliminate the delays, misuse, and underuse of treatment. This could be especially important for optimizing use of hormone therapy for estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. Trial oncology medical homes in North Carolina and Michigan have yielded promising results regarding improved care (fewer emergency department visits and inpatient admissions) and high adherence to national and practice-selected guidelines.7,8
PPACA also increases funding for community health centers and provides grants to support community health workers; this highlights again the importance of place in racial health care disparities.9 Encouraging collaboration between community health centers and academic institutions, this funding could build bridges between minority communities and high-quality health care institutions while also improving patient communication and education.9 As this series has discussed, a failure to provide culturally appropriate clinical information can lead to issues with follow-up and adjuvant treatment compliance and further widen the breast cancer racial mortality gap.
Delivery system reform has the potential to help close the disparity gap by improving the quality of care delivered to minority breast cancer patients. As Chin et al10 describe in their analysis of effective strategies for reducing health disparities, successful interventions are “culturally tailored to meet patients’ needs, employ multidisciplinary teams of care providers, and target multiple leverage points along a patient’s pathway of care.” ACOs have the financial incentive to meet these features of a successful intervention and improve quality across the continuum of breast cancer care. In addition, the PPACA “incentivized experimentation” with health care delivery, such as the oncology medical home and novel telemedicine interventions, to provide higher quality care outside of hospital settings, which could impact the disparity gap.11
In the face of this new era of organizational structures focused on coordinated, population-based care, oncology providers put themselves at financial risk if they do not position themselves for policy and reimbursement changes that reduce disparities.10 However, ongoing research will be needed to ensure that as these changes are implemented, the racial mortality gap in breast cancer decreases, and that no vulnerable patient populations are left out.
Precision medicine for all
In addition, as discussed earlier in this series, there are differences in the tumor biology and genomics of breast cancer in African American patients. Beyond quality interventions, initiatives to reduce the mortality gap should focus on precision medicine for all. These initiatives should allow researchers to better understand biologic and genomic differences among breast cancer patients and tailor treatments accordingly. The PPACA has taken steps in this direction and is the first federal law to require group health plans and state-licensed health insurance companies to cover standard-of-care costs associated with participation in clinical trials as well as genetic testing for prevention.12