Understanding primary care-oncology relationships within a changing healthcare environment

BMC Fam Pract. 2019 Nov 28;20(1):164. doi: 10.1186/s12875-019-1056-y.


Background: Management of care transitions from primary care into and out of oncology is critical for optimal care of cancer patients and cancer survivors. There is limited understanding of existing primary care-oncology relationships within the context of the changing health care environment.

Methods: Through a comparative case study of 14 innovative primary care practices throughout the United States (U.S.), we examined relationships between primary care and oncology settings to identify attributes contributing to strengthened relationships in diverse settings. Field researchers observed practices for 10-12 days, recording fieldnotes and conducting interviews. We created a reduced dataset of all text related to primary care-oncology relationships, and collaboratively identified patterns to characterize these relationships through an inductive "immersion/crystallization" analysis process.

Results: Nine of the 14 practices discussed having either formal or informal primary care-oncology relationships. Nearly all formal primary care-oncology relationships were embedded within healthcare systems. The majority of private, independent practices had more informal relationships between individual primary care physicians and specific oncologists. Practices with formal relationships noted health system infrastructure that facilitates transfer of patient information and timely referrals. Practices with informal relationships described shared commitment, trust, and rapport with specific oncologists. Regardless of relationship type, challenges reported by primary care settings included lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities during cancer treatment and beyond.

Conclusions: With the rapid transformation of U.S. healthcare towards system ownership of primary care practices, efforts are needed to integrate strengths of informal primary care-oncology relationships in addition to formal system driven relationships.

Keywords: Cancer care/oncology; Chronic disease management; Healthcare delivery; Physician relationships; Primary care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medical Oncology / methods*
  • Medical Oncology / organization & administration
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Rural Health Services
  • United States