The AON Advantage for Community Oncology Practices

A partnership for growth and independence.

Community practices, including medical oncology and hematology specialties, are healthcare’s cornerstones. Keeping care locally reduces the need to travel for care, decreases the costs of care and can improve overall patient outcomes. The Community Oncology Alliance (COA) shared that most Americans — about 32 million — receive their cancer treatments at a local independent practice instead of a hospital or other health system.

Community oncology practices treat more than 900,000 patients annually. Community-based practices are also the preferred site for cancer treatments, a valuable finding published by ASCO (“Preferred Sites of Cancer Care: Community Oncology Practices vs Hospitals and Academic Centers”) in May 2024.  

The main point: Most of America’s cancer care happens not at large hospitals but in locally owned clinics in communities nationwide.

The Landscape of Independent Medical Practices 

Being an independent medical practice, not owned by a hospital or health system, offers various benefits not available to its counterparts. These benefits include lower per-patient costs, decreased preventable hospital stays and fewer hospital readmissions, according to STAT News’ opinion article “Independent doctors like me are becoming an endangered species,” which was authored by Dr. Paul Berggreen, a gastroenterologist and board chair and president of the American Independent Medical Practice Association,  

However, the costs of owning a practice are just as high. Private practice doctors face higher investments in infrastructure like IT and EHR systems and administrative costs like increasing labor costs, rent and premiums. Oncologists in private practice are paid significantly less than they were a decade ago, with a payment gap of at least 28%, a statistic covered by COA’s “Analysis Shows Payment for Key Community Oncology Services May Lag Inflation by at Least 28%” study.

The trend among independent medical practices is nothing short of concerning. The industry’s history is peppered with more doctors refusing to open private practices and a large segment leaving private practice (over 108,000 doctors in January 2019, according to Becker’s ASC Review). These trends are currently not showing any indication of changing direction.

Without community practices, patients no longer have access to local high-quality care and treatments, which increases their overall health costs, including travel expenses, and potentially impacts their health, especially when medical emergencies arise.

The Challenges of Independent Medical Practices 

Managing relationships with insurance payers and building contract arrangements are two essential tasks. Negotiating contracts or navigating regulatory and administrative requirements can be costly ventures that steal away dedicated time with patients. Unlike hospitals and health systems, independent practices often have less bargaining power and, therefore, less leverage during these negotiations. 

To thrive in the face of today’s challenges and maintain their independence, doctors can seek partners, such as physician groups or practice management companies, that offer specifically designed expertise, support and resources to help them return to providing the highest standard of patient care.

“Running a private practice requires a lot more than just seeing patients. The administrative burden and other tasks can be overwhelming to maintain at times. Partnering with AON has been a game-changer, allowing me to focus on what matters most: delivering the best possible care to my patients. It has given me back valuable time and peace of mind.”

Brian Mulherin, MD, Board-certified medical oncologist at Hematology Oncology of Indiana

What Makes AON Different

Founded in 2018 by experienced healthcare and community oncology leaders, the American Oncology Network (AON) offers robust services and support to empower independent practices to thrive while maintaining autonomy.

AON offers partner practices access to expertise in business and clinical management and centralized services and support so that physicians can return to doing what they enjoy most — focusing first and foremost on the patients and the care they provide. To date, AON has served more than 400,000 patients nationwide, and its network includes more than 240 providers in over 110 clinics across 21 states.

Five Benefits of an AON Partnership 

A partnership with AON enables community oncology practices to survive and thrive. Here are five benefits of joining the network.

Benefit One: AON’s passion for patient care is unmatched and fuels its mission. Community oncology practices champion exceptional patient benefits like affordable care and reduced travel burdens. AON’s dedication to local patient care guides our every decision. We want our partner practices to succeed so that community oncology remains a core choice provider in healthcare.

“At AON, our passion for accessible patient care burns just as brightly as our dedication to the success of our partner practices, doctors and staff. We bridge the cancer care gap by offering comprehensive support services. We exist to empower them to prioritize patient care and deliver exceptional outcomes.”

Stephen “Fred” Divers, MD, AON chief medical officer 

Benefit Two: AON provides services and support while doctors stay in control. A common misconception is that partnering with AON means practices lose autonomy. Doctors retain full independence. We provide behind-the-scenes support, allowing doctors to focus on what matters most — their patients. 

Benefit Three: Practices can access highly specialized and centralized teams equipped to provide and further support comprehensive care. With over 40 years of management experience in key clinic and business functions, AON equips partners to deliver exceptional care. We offer a comprehensive suite of services to streamline operations and support practices, providing administrative ease and allowing physicians to focus predominantly on patient care.

Here are some of the services practices have access to in the network: 

  • In-house laboratory and pathology. 
  • Dedicated specialty pharmacy for oral oncolytic medications. 
  • Payer relations. 
  • Drug procurement. 
  • Care coordination. 
  • Revenue cycle management. 
  • IT support. 
  • Human resources guidance and physician recruitment. 
  • Financial management. 
  • Marketing assistance. 

Benefit Four: Practices gain support for clinical trials. Clinical trials offer groundbreaking treatment options and hope for cancer patients. AON provides access to a wide range of local trials through its partnership with the Sarah Cannon Research Institute and other organizations. Whether a doctor is interested in starting an in-house trial or enrolling patients in existing ones, AON’s experience can assist and mentor them. 

Related: The Benefits of Clinical Trials at Community Practices

Benefit Five: Practices gain support to begin or expand critical care services. Ensuring care and services are accessible locally makes all the difference for cancer patients. AON teams support practices seeking to offer new services or expand existing ones, like diagnostic imaging or radiation therapy, by providing assistance in creating new revenue streams and building a pathway for practice growth

Community Oncologists Need to Look Ahead and Plan

Oncology is a large, fragmented market with the community oncology services market expected to grow to $81.33 billion in 2027 at a CAGR of 10.9%, according to the 2023 Community Oncology Services Global Market Report.

In 2020, cancer patients in the United States spent $200 billion on oncology services. Community oncology plays a key role in the oncology market’s future as it aligns with two critical structural trends in healthcare:

  • The shift from a fee-for-service model to a fee-for-value model (also known as value-based care).
  • The increasing focus on social determinants of health and healthcare equity.

Additionally, the oncology market needs to continue to grow because there is an anticipated shortage of more than 2,000 oncologists by 2025. Community oncologists are important and offer compelling patient and payer advantages, including being cost-effective (approximately 40% cheaper than hospitals), more personal, accessible and cutting-edge.

Related: Embrace the AON Advantage: Your Fast Track to Practice Success in Three Stages

AON is a leading cancer care provider through its strong network of dedicated community oncology practices and physicians. Supporting the shift toward value-based care, AON and its practices are driving forces in closing the cancer care gap, ensuring equitable cancer care is a reality for all.