The two words every patient dreads—the ones that signify a challenging, emotional and formidable journey ahead.
Fortunately, our patients don’t have to go on that journey alone. Through a unique program within Fairview Pharmacy in partnership with University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care, a group of dedicated staff members called oncology liaisons care for cancer patients’ financial needs, specifically those related to their medications.
“Oncology liaisons assist patients during a very stressful time by owning the complexity—they handle the details so the patient can focus on getting better,” says Britt Sager, Fairview oncology liaison supervisor. “They handle the process from the moment a provider is considering a therapy to the time the medication is in the patient’s hands.”
Oncology liaisons help patients navigate the often-complicated world of insurance: they determine if medications will be covered by insurance, submit required authorizations or appeals (when necessary) to insurance on behalf of the provider and patient, figure out where the specialty drugs must be filled, and help patients avoid the financial hardships that can accompany a cancer diagnosis.
“In my mind, the main goal of my role is to allow patients to start, continue and complete chemotherapy with as little financial burden as possible,” says Jen Freese, Fairview oncology liaison.
In 2017, the oncology liaison team’s work set new growth records for helping patients acquire and maintain their therapy. By finding programs to help with the out-of-pocket costs for their medications, Fairview’s oncology liaisons saved our cancer patients more than $10 million last year alone. The oncology liaisons support patients who are seen at University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care clinics located throughout the region, and will soon support oncology patients at HealthEast locations as well.
Those programs may come in the form of copay cards or grant and foundation money in conjunction with insurance, or free drug programs from manufacturers—all of which can significantly reduce the financial burden for our patients.
But coordinating between patients, insurance companies, providers and pharmacies is no easy task. An oncology liaison’s day is often a flurry of calls, pages, emails and instant messages – people coming from all sides of the equation needing help, answers and support.
“The biggest challenge is time management,” says Jen. “We have so many people that need our help and we need to efficiently take care of them, help them understand the process and get them the meds as quickly as possible.”
Oncology liaisons also need to be able to adapt quickly. A change in insurance contracts or in a patient’s course of treatment can mean starting from scratch on a given patient’s case.
For some, the fast pace and constant change of the oncology world makes the work exciting. One of the biggest draws, however, is serving as a lifeline for patients during some of the most difficult moments of their lives.
“The biggest joy is definitely meeting the patient and letting them know that we are here for them,” says Jen. “When we have these interactions, you can see the sense of relief come across their face, because they are sitting there with so many unknowns, but they meet us and know we are on their team and fighting for them.”