Tackling Cancer Care’s Now, Next, and Beyond with Kelley Simpson
Oncology providers have a unique imperative: to address the challenges created by the pandemic, which disproportionately impacted cancer care, while working toward the cutting-edge innovation and business models of tomorrow.
Kelley Simpson leads Chartis Oncology Solutions. She brings 30+ years of experience and a passion for helping oncology providers—community, academic, and NCI Centers—drive transformative care delivery.
When Kelley isn’t working, you’ll find her enjoying a relaxing day on Lake Redwine with friends, family, and her chihuahua CoCo.
Chartis: What are the most influential forces for oncology today?
Kelley Simpson: I’d be remiss if I didn’t start by acknowledging the massive impact of COVID-19 on cancer care.
Throughout the pandemic, providers struggled to engage consumers to maintain preventive services like breast, colorectal, and lung screenings, and as a result, we’re seeing an influx of late-stage cancer diagnoses. It is imperative for providers to focus on education, outreach, and preventive care by promoting and streamlining access to screening services that empower consumers to reengage.
At the same time, health disparities only widened during the pandemic so finding ways to alleviate those inequities is one of the most pressing issues cancer care leaders face today. We often find many providers do not develop annual comprehensive education, prevention, and screening plans for their unique populations. This will be essential in the new year to boldly engage high-risk populations, to make it easier for primary care and referring providers to access services, and to consider the potential for expanding screening access points.
There are also forces at play for the future of cancer care that must be part of strategic planning now: cellular therapies research and treatment, accretive partnerships, and digital transformation come to mind. So, it’s a mix of addressing what’s happening now as a result of the pandemic and preparing for innovation of cancer care that’s coming next.
Chartis: Let’s start with what’s happening now. What should leaders do today to address the wake of the pandemic?
Simpson: Foundationally, providers must optimize their assets and operations overall, but particularly with late-stage volume returns. The delay in screenings results in a more complex patient mix, including many more late-stage diagnoses, so providers must ensure capacity enablement as well as high throughput and utilization of their equipment and facilities.
Additionally, providers must immediately consider ways to improve digital access for their patient populations, if they haven’t started already. A lot of cancer patients struggle with access with many new diagnoses waiting 10+ days for an initial consultation, making it essential for providers to create a seamless digital experience for scheduling appointments, getting care information, and connecting with healthcare support systems like navigators.
Chartis: Looking to the future, what strategies are leading cancer care providers pursuing?
Simpson: Winning organizations are seeking accretive partnerships consorting with previously unforeseen parties like private oncology practices, private equity groups, insurers, and retailers. Oncology transactional focus is leaning more towards parties who together can provide integrated, end-to-end cancer care ecosystems.
The consumer-driven nature of cancer patients demands providers enable access to the most advanced research and latest therapies. Providers must optimize their research programs recognizing the need for “right-size” infrastructure, leadership, and growth solely or in partnership to afford patients access to therapies entering the market at warp speed.
Lastly, integrating and optimizing care teams is going to be table stakes in the future of cancer care. Providers seeking a single oncology strategy will not be competitive. Leading providers are drafting disease-specific strategies, organizing by disease site, and creating end-to-end clinical operating units. That starts by understanding the current state of each disease-specific program through evaluating patient process mapping, access capabilities, timeliness to care, and quality and performance of the program overall. Using that intel, leaders create strategies to address the gaps. Disease-specific planning and implementation is a tried-and-true strategy, but only a handful of providers are getting it right so far.
Chartis: What other trends are you seeing in the oncology space?
Simpson: There’s massive growth in cancer cases and survivors – the so-called “silver tsunami” – necessitating providers to maximize equipment, personnel, and existing cancer facilities. Many providers are analyzing space options, including reallocating, repurposing, or renovating existing space. Likewise, most are seeking the greatest throughput and optimization of diagnostic and treatment equipment.
Finally, care team transformation is on the rise. With the impact of staffing shortages and shifts from the pandemic, providers are reassessing care teams — physician, advanced practice providers, nurses, medical assistants — and appropriately allocating “top of training” responsibilities to clinical staff to leverage physician time, meet patient demands and solidify the care team model of the future most effectively.
We’re also seeing growth in the feasibility of stand-alone cancer hospitals in the last year or so. Organizations that may need more space beyond cancer services are looking at the reality of being able to build cancer hospitals attached to their ambulatory care cancer centers to create a cancer care inpatient and outpatient ecosystem.
Although many oncology service lines lead the financial margin for their healthcare institutions, garnering 25-40% margin position, not enough cancer program dyad leaders have access to a business intelligence tool to manage their programs in real-time. It’s a matter of when, not if, value-based payment models will take hold. When they do, those that have a tool in play to help understand and manage cost to prioritize quality and process improvement initiatives will be ahead of the curve.
Chartis: There’s a lot going on in the cancer care space. If you had to distill it down to three key action items for leaders to prepare for now, next, and beyond — what would they be?
Simpson: First, cancer care leaders must address the lingering impact of the pandemic on cancer care. Reengaging these patient populations and addressing health disparities has become painfully apparent as a result.
Next, they must advance through innovation and capitalize on novel partnerships. There’s no other way to be in the cancer game than to be on the cutting-edge of what research and clinical care has to offer. Cancer care is a consumer-oriented service, and patients are demanding the best care and research from their local providers.
In the long-run, the tried-and-true strategies are still going to be the way to elevate care delivery and performance. There is no better care delivery model than disease-specific operating units. Today, it is no longer good enough to be have an overall “good” cancer program — you must excel at sub-specialty cancer diagnostics, research, and end-to-end treatment and supportive care. Developing service line plans for each disease program with the unique consumer in mind will be key to winning competitive advantage for years to come.