Study discovers factors affecting experience of care for cancer patients during their last year of life

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC— RTI International has released a study that will help health practitioners deliver high-quality care to cancer patients who are in the last year of their lives. 

The aim of the study, published in Cancer and titled “The Health Care Experience of Patients With Cancer During the Last Year of Life: Analysis of the SEER-CAHPS Data Set,” was to identify the factors that influenced the patient-reported experience of care among people with cancer within 1 year before death.

“Every day more than 1,600 Americans die from cancer,” said Michael Halpern, M.D, Ph.D., senior fellow at RTI. “It is crucial that we understand how to improve the experience of care and enhance quality of life during their final months.”

Though there are a range of challenges affecting care during this critical time, the study found that patients with higher general or mental health status were more likely to indicate excellent experience of care – to include customer service, physician communication, timeliness of care, and getting needed prescription drugs.

In addition to health status, sex, race/ethnicity, and education were found to be significant predictors of certain healthcare rating. For example, men, Asian cancer patients, and those with a college education were less likely to report excellent experiences with aspects of their medical care. 

Other key findings include:

  • Greater time before death predicted an increased likelihood of higher ratings for health plan and specialist physician
  • Clinical characteristics were found to have few significant associations with experience of care
  • Individuals in fee-for-service Medicare plans, versus Medicare Advantage, had a greater likelihood of excellent experience with health plans, getting care quickly, and getting needed care

This study comes at a critical time, as President Barack Obama announced this year that Vice President Joe Biden would lead a National Cancer Moonshot focused on research efforts, enhancing data access, and increased collaboration among experts.

Results from this study can be used to develop new programs to improve the experience of care for individuals with cancer. As health status is so closely linked to the experience of care, programs that assess patients’ unmet needs and address the issues they feel are most important will likely improve quality of life. 

“We hope this study will encourage fellow researchers, health care professionals, and patient advocacy groups to improve access to supportive and palliative care services, thus enhancing patients’ experiences of care during this critical time period,” Halpern said. 

This study was one of the first to use the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) data set. This data set, developed by RTI under the direction of the National Cancer Institute, fills previous gaps to research by linking patient-reported information from the CAHPS Medicare Survey, which collects information on the experience of care directly from patients, with clinical information from the National Cancer Institute's SEER program. 

male patient with doctor in an exam room

Highlights

  • RTI International has released a study that will help health practitioners deliver high-quality care to cancer patients who are in their last year of life
  • The study found that patients with higher general or mental health status were more likely to indicate excellent experience of care – to include customer service, physician communication, timeliness of care, and getting needed prescription drugs