The United States has made some progress in addressing SDOH. For instance, Medicare Advantage plans have been authorized to cover non-medical benefits. Some large commercial payers are making investments to help patients with food, transportation and housing.
However, participating oncologists said more help is needed. About three in four participating oncologists said that assistance programs are not readily accessible. The primary areas they say they need assistance with are:
- cost of medicine (79 percent);
- transportation (57 percent); and
- tools to improve patient understanding of disease and treatment (29 percent).
Only eight percent believed mental health assistance would provide significant value, and only one percent said they see value in addiction assistance. This is surprising given the documented rates of mental illness and addiction across the United States.
Notably, the survey was designed, and mostly implemented before the widespread impact of COVID-19 in the United States was apparent. With more than five million Americans losing health insurance coverage in the first six months of the pandemic, SDOH issues such as financial security, housing security, food security and mental health will most certainly have a larger impact on cancer patients than they did just a few months ago – indicating the need for support may grow in the coming year.
Participating oncologists said a wide range of healthcare stakeholders should take responsibility for addressing SDOH. These key players include government organizations (58 percent), non-profits (56 percent), commercial payers (54 percent), hospitals (50 percent) and pharmaceutical manufacturers (42 percent).
Nearly all participating oncologists said pharmaceutical manufacturers should be involved in supporting the social needs of patients. Only two percent disagreed. Oncologists said pharmaceutical manufacturers can play a larger role through:
- copay assistance programs (90 percent);
- free drug programs (70 percent);
- patient education programs (61 percent);
- adherence programs (42 percent); and
- transportation assistance (39 percent).
Overall, the findings provide valuable insights into how oncologists perceive the impact of SDOH on their patients – and how they are managing these issues in their practices. Given the health and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, these issues are likely to remain relevant for years to come.