A Different Kind of Hospital Conference


by Frederick L. Greene, MD, FACS


Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day. - Zen proverb


It was September 2019. My colleagues and I had been immersed in articles and presentations regarding the “financial toxicity” that was affecting a large cohort of our cancer patients. As clinicians, we certainly knew that the cost of healthcare was continuing to escalate and was adversely affecting each of our patients as a major stressor in their overall care.

Banding together, the financial counselors, oncology nurse navigators, hospital

administrators, social workers, pharmacy staff, advanced practice nurses, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiologists, radiation oncologists, and trainees decided to tackle the problem proactively, or at least retroactively, to understand the toxic issues. Hopefully, this would lead to improved patient care and a cohesive systemic approach to these financial conundrums. Although we had 12 other multidisciplinary conferences either weekly or biweekly, we established yet another tumor board - the Financial Toxicity Tumor Board (FTTB)!

The FTTB was established to address the burgeoning issue of financial toxicity that has been linked with bankruptcy, noncompliance to treatment, increased anxiety, worsened outcomes, and increased mortality. Our intent was to find solutions to ameliorate these challenges, and the FTTB was a tumor conference established to create multidisciplinary solutions. Cases are triaged by members of the Finance Department or financial counselors based on acuity and severity. Simple issues are handled by financial counselors, nurse navigators, or social workers without involving the FTTB. More complex issues are referred to the FTTB for review and problem-solving.

Over a period of three years, the FTTB has identified the spectrum and frequency of issues associated with financial toxicity in our large healthcare system. This strategy has reduced patient expenditures for oncologic agents by more than $60 million in this time frame, assisting between 583 and 749 patients per annum. In addition, copay assistance was found for over 2,000 patients, providing amounts of approximately $1.4 million each year.

Substituting biosimilars, generics, and clinically appropriate lower-cost drugs for established, costlier drugs was shown to be an effective way to reduce the total cost of care by 5%, while maintaining the quality of care for patients with cancer. We found that even small shifts toward lower-cost drugs resulted in significant reductions in the total cost of care. The regular attendance at the FTTB, held in a virtual format, by a high percentage of participants, including physicians, over a prolonged period suggests the acceptance and feasibility of this concept and the potential for adapting it to other clinical settings.

Relating to the Zen proverb above, we “learned” that multidisciplinary dialogue regarding financial toxicity is similar to that in the clinical management setting: it improves care for the patient, educates the hospital personnel, and improves the healthcare system. We “let go” of the concept that understanding and managing financial toxicity is irrelevant for clinicians and unworkable across a large healthcare enterprise. My recommendation is to help launch this model at your own facility. This initiative will reverberate in countless ways for all involved, especially the patient.