Reducing Cancer Costs Through Symptom Management and Triage Pathways

J Oncol Pract. 2019 Feb;15(2):e91-e97. doi: 10.1200/JOP.18.00082. Epub 2018 Dec 21.


Purpose: Value-based care infers care that is high quality at a comparatively low total cost. A key strategy for value-based oncology care is to avoid unnecessary emergency room (ER) visits and associated hospitalizations of patients receiving treatment for cancer. Early experience with this strategy showed that symptom management in patients with cancer can result in the reduction of ER events and hospitalizations. However, quantifying the actual savings achieved has been elusive. In this article, we present the impact of symptom management and triage pathways programs deployed at two midsize community oncology practices. We then quantify the actual dollar saving in their Medicare and commercial populations.

Methods: Symptom management records generated through the ER triage programs at the two practices were screened to identify avoided ER events. This approach was validated with an independent analysis using Medicare claim data from the Oncology Care Model program in which both practices participate. Bootstrap simulations were used to test for statistical significance of the ER event rate changes before and after the launch of the program. Average event and annual total cost savings from avoided ER incidents and ER-related hospitalizations were then calculated.

Results: Two hundred twenty-two avoided ER events were identified, for an estimated net annualized savings generated by the two practices of $3.85 million. Although the ER rate reduction was not statistically significant, these findings are consistent with the observed reduction of ER event rates among a subset of Oncology Care Model beneficiaries at the two practices.

Conclusion: ER events and associated hospitalizations can be avoided as well as quantified as a result of the deployment of a practice-level integrated platform that incorporates physician-scripted symptom management protocols and telephone triage pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cost Savings* / methods
  • Disease Management
  • Emergency Medical Services / economics
  • Emergency Medical Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs*
  • Hospitalization / economics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Oncology* / economics
  • Medical Oncology* / methods
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Palliative Care* / economics
  • Palliative Care* / methods
  • Symptom Assessment
  • Texas / epidemiology
  • Triage / economics*
  • Triage / methods*