Study: Infusion Therapy in Community Oncology Practices Less Costly than Hospital-Based Care

Prices for biologics, chemotherapies and other infused cancer drugs and hormonal therapies provided by in-hospital outpatient departments were double those paid in physician offices, according to a recent Health Affairs study that looked at prices paid in 2019 by Blue Cross Blue Shield health plans. Per the findings, prices paid for these drugs were 99%-104% higher in hospital outpatient departments than those paid in physician offices for infused cancer drugs and 68% higher for infused hormonal therapies.

The biggest takeaway from the study is that it is much less expensive to provide the same level of care in a community oncology practice than in a hospital-based outpatient center – as much as 35% less in some cases. In the study’s cohort, the savings reached would have been nearly $1.3 billion.

That is significant.

Practice-Based Infusion Therapy

Lower cost to the patient is one of a host of benefits associated with practice-based infusion therapy. Unfortunately, for many community-based oncology practices, the price of these drugs and associated infrastructure can make it difficult to offer these services in-house. Unless, that is, they are part of a national network like American Oncology Network (AON), which has the contracting power and management experience to give our practices access to a wide formulary of oncology and non-oncology medications that may not be available to or are financially out of reach of smaller private practices.

Further, some independent practices may not have the time or manpower to fully manage infusion therapy. AON manages all that with standardized education, training, processes and evidence-based clinical guidance. AON provides user friendly tools for clinicians and staff to access that are rooted in the latest clinical publications in oncology. Further, our electronic medical records system allows access to standardized protocols for oncology and non-oncology treatments.

With the power of AON in their corner, our practice partners can provide their patients with an important therapeutic service that goes far beyond lower costs for their care. This extends specialty infusions for patients who need treatment for non-oncology disorders such as asthma, genetic and skin disorders, rheumatoid diseases, and Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal problems.

Receiving infusions at their community-based oncology practice makes for a convenient, cost-effective experience for patients, who benefit from being treated by specialized nurses and physicians without having to travel long distances. AON practices can provide the same level of evidence-based care for patients close to where they live at less cost. Also, along with saving on the cost of the drugs themselves, patients won’t incur the facility fees they would have to pay at a hospital, further easing the financial burden.

Patients First

At AON, we’ve built our entire business model around providing the support our partner practices need to stay independent and focus on patients instead of paperwork. This includes putting our size to work negotiating the drug prices that enable them to provide comprehensive care in the community – including infusion therapy.

The quality of the care provided in the community oncology setting is second-to-none. That it is less expensive, as demonstrated by the Health Affairs study, is simply one of its many benefits.

A Smooth Path for Onboarding New AON Practices

When an oncology practice joins American Oncology Network (AON), how clinical and administrative operations are brought under the AON umbrella can have a significant and long-term impact on staff, clinician, patient, and community satisfaction. To help ensure a positive and smooth experience, AON’s transition team leverages its deep experience and proven processes to anticipate obstacles and clear hurdles with minimal disruption to day-to-day clinic operations.

A typical transition takes up to four months. And while each transition is unique, over the course of onboarding more than 20 new AON practices we have established a proven formula that is effective, flexible and, most importantly, customer centric.

Project Management at the Helm

The first step in every transition strategy is establishing a dedicated project management team responsible for bridging all communications between the practice and AON. That team also oversees the project roadmap, ensuring all milestones and deadlines are met, managing change and practice expectations, and triaging priorities.

The team is the face of the more than 200 individuals involved in the transition process, each of whom brings to the table a unique set of skills and expertise. It also represents more than 20 departments, ranging from operations and legal to finance and revenue cycle.

The project management team is in constant contact with every individual involved in the transition process and works closely with representatives from the practice, typically office administrators with involvement from physician and clinical leadership.

A 3-Stage Roll Out

Under the guidance of the dedicated project management team, the transition process will typically roll out in three stages:

  1. Due Diligence: This starts with creating a communications plan that forms the foundation upon which AON’s relationship with the practice is built. This is also when we collect necessary data such as provider, payer and facility information, employee census, contracts, and marketing materials – everything there is to know about the practice and its operations.
  2. Implementation: Next is acting on the data collected during due diligence. This includes meetings with employees, establishing new contracts with payers and pharmaceutical companies, setting up other legal contracts and assignments, etc. The implementation checklist encompasses more than 1,000 individual tasks which the project management team manages behind the scenes, ensuring every item is completed on time and without overwhelming the practice team.
  3. Go-Live: At this point, it is time for the clinic to open its doors under the AON footprint. To deliver a positive experience for everyone – including patients – we expand our on-site presence to conduct staff training on new processes and workflows and assist with change management needs. This ensures the practice’s clinical and administrative staffs are proficient with new systems and processes and can proceed with confidence under the AON banner.

Once go-live is complete – the staff is fully trained and there are no more kinks to work out – a regional team takes over for the project management team, remaining engaged with the practice and serving as its dedicated AON liaison for any future needs.

Putting the Customer First

Change is hard, especially when it involves transitioning from an independent practice to one that is part of the AON network. Staff and patients alike will be impacted by the move, which is exacerbated by the growing pains that are change management’s constant companion – especially when the transition means learning new EMR and other information systems.

To calm fears and keep the transition as painless as possible, we put the customer first in everything we do. Each transition is undertaken as a partnership rather than a top-down corporate approach. We focus on the employee and patient experience from the start, for example by ensuring the employee onboarding journey is smooth and providing patients with transparent communications about AON. Finally, we make sure the facility is ready to operate under the AON banner so there are no glitches that can impact the practice’s ability to provide care or patient satisfaction.

Our transition strategy is centered on making sure all practice stakeholders are comfortable with every step of the process. We approach change management with sensitivity and positivity, communicating clearly why the move to AON is a good thing for everyone involved. We anticipate and address bumps along the way, so the transition experience is defined by our team’s ability to resolve issues – and not by the issues themselves.

This customer-centric, proactive, and transparent approach helps align cultures under a shared vision of what the future can be for patients, staff and the communities served.

The Benefit of a Centralized Pharmacy

Each day, American Oncology Network (AON) employees are doing everything they can to make sure our patients are as comfortable as possible as they undergo treatment. This includes the dedicated and knowledgeable team working at our centralized, state-of-the-art pharmacy, which is celebrating its two-year anniversary.

Our in-house specialty pharmacy offers patients access to the most current and effective oral cancer medications along with round-the-clock access to our pharmacists. Having an in-house pharmacy with a robust back-office infrastructure also eases individual practices’ administrative burden by taking care of the heavy lifting associated with refills, prior authorizations and financial assistance so their staff can concentrate on our top priority: our patients.

Access to Oral Oncolytics

Because of their tolerability and effectiveness, which can lead to a better quality of life for patients, the use of oral oncolytics is skyrocketing. AON’s ready access to 99% of these medications means we can rapidly fill and ship prescriptions right to the patient’s doorstep.

Oral oncolytics are beneficial because they allow patients to receive the treatment they need in the comfort of their own home rather than having to come to one of our clinics. This eliminates disruptions to their day and eliminates the need to miss work.

Oral medications are also a type of targeted therapy, which means they zero in on cancer cells and mostly leave a patient’s healthy cells alone. These drugs are better tolerated by patients and help them avoid some of the uncomfortable side effects such as nausea that accompany more traditional forms of therapy.

A Tool for Patients and Practices

AON’s centralized pharmacy not only benefits our practices, but the patients they treat too.

Our pharmacists have access to the charts and medical histories of all the patients in our network, allowing them to check lab work, notes and a host of other information that helps them make recommendations to clinicians. This allows for higher-quality, more personalized treatment than is possible at other pharmacies that don’t have ready access to such comprehensive patient information.

After the medications are shipped, pharmacists reach out to the patient to see how they are feeling and if they have any questions or concerns. Some medications have harsher side effects than others, so patients are educated before they start treatment about what to expect and how to diminish some of the discomfort. This is important, because patients who are aware of the side effects are much more likely to keep taking their medications, which of course leads to better results.

As for the practices in the network, AON handles all the administrative work, including assisting the patients and clinic in obtaining prior authorizations, financial assistance and refill requests. Finally, our pharmacists are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer patient questions and provide advice, which cuts down on the number of phone calls that need to be handled by clinic staff.

Expanding Space and Benefits

American Oncology Network is consistently adding more practices and expanding staff. To accommodate the higher demand generated by this growth, we have opened a new 20,000-square-foot pharmacy in Fort Myers, FL.

The new location is equipped with high-tech automation and conveyor systems to make operations even more efficient and accelerate the process of filling and sending prescriptions, getting them into patients’ hands faster than ever before.

Our centralized, in-house pharmacy is one of the many benefits AON offers to its partner practices. It is part of our dedication to ensuring we are doing everything we can to support both a clinic’s staff and patients—leveraging our expertise to ensure they are comfortable and well on their way to a positive outcome.

The Benefits of Working at American Oncology Network

A career in oncology offers all sorts of rewards. But working at American Oncology Network (AON) or one of its partner practices offers employees more than most. Not only do we offer competitive salaries and excellent benefit packages within a welcoming and nurturing workplace, but we are a network of community-based practices that allows our staff to grow familiar with the patients they see on a regular basis.

If you are looking to start or advance your career in healthcare, AON should be a top consideration.

The AON Advantage

Work-life balance is a priority at AON. While our employees work hard providing our patients with the best care and treatment possible, we stress the importance of maintaining a work-life balance to rejuvenate and spend quality time with family and friends.

Being part of a community-based practice lets members of our clinical staff establish relationships with patients and stay by their side throughout treatment. Not only does this help our nurses and physicians create the kind of true relationships with patients that can be difficult to achieve in other outpatient settings, but it means our patients have someone they can trust and rely on during stressful and anxious times. In fact, these relationships go beyond the care team to include our financial counselors and patient service specialists, all of whom contribute to the patient’s overall well-being.

We offer competitive total compensation packages that include comprehensive health insurance with a robust provider network. Our 401k, which offers a 100% match and investment options, is available to full-time and part-time staff members, and we feature a generous Paid Time Off (PTO) program. Further, while we encourage employees to take time off when needed, they have the opportunity at the end of the year to cash out a portion of their accrued and unused PTO.

Promoting from within is also a priority at AON, and we support our team members’ continued development through professional development programs and tuition assistance.  

Taking Care of Our Employees

Our top priority is our patients. But at AON, we understand that we can’t provide our patients with the high-quality care they have come to expect unless our employees are prioritized in the same way.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our IT team acted quickly to enable nearly 200 employees to start working remotely and helped make Telehealth appointments a reality for our patients within four days. We ensured our clinicians and physicians on the frontline were well-protected per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, supplying them with an abundance of personal protection equipment including masks, gloves and sanitizers, implementing daily screening and temperature checks, reconfiguring their workspace to ensure proper social distancing, and installing plexiglass dividers and sneeze guards throughout our AON offices. We extended our safety protocols, which are also aligned with CDC guidelines, to our patients by spacing appointments, requiring all patients to wear masks and screening patients for any possible COVID-19 symptoms or exposure before entering facilities, and ensuring proper social distancing by restricting visitors from accompanying patients into our clinics.

Our measures proved successful. A survey of AON team members found that their top concerns were a sense of safety and cleanliness, job security and up-to-date information. In all, more than 81% of respondents said they were satisfied with our pandemic response.

We enhanced our leave policies and provided all employees who were not participating in the company’s medical plan with affordable access to Telehealth through Teladoc, the first and largest supplier of telehealth medical consults in the country. In addition, we upgraded our EAP (employee assistance program) to ComPsych®, the worldwide leader in fully integrated EAP, behavioral health and wellness services and resources.  

Staying connected with our employees during the pandemic continued to be a high priority. From turning on our cameras during Zoom meetings to hosting virtual trivia games, boosting employee morale and engaging our teams in meaningful ways is an intentional endeavor during these unprecedented and stressful times.

Strength Through Partnership

At AON, we are a network of independent oncology practices working together as one. To that end, we host annual summits each year for physicians, nurses and operational employees, giving our staff a chance to meet and collaborate with AON peers from across the country so they can learn from and teach others how to do their jobs better or more efficiently. We also offer training opportunities to ensure practice employees keep up with the trends and fluidity of oncology so they can help our patients achieve better outcomes.

Cancer touches everyone. Being able to make a difference in the lives of those fighting this disease is something our employees at AON cherish and never take for granted — especially when they get a chance to witness a patient celebrate their final day of therapy by triumphantly ringing the bell.

If you are looking for a company that offers rewarding and fulfilling experiences and celebrates patient victories each day, AON is a great place to start or further a career in healthcare.

Taking Care of Employees During COVID-19

At American Oncology Network (AON), patients are our top priority. We want to provide them with the best care possible throughout what is often the most stressful and scariest time of their life – and it is our physicians, nurses and employees that make that possible. That is why we strive to keep our team happy and safe, which currently means confronting the enormous challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Treating cancer patients is an incredibly essential service, and care continuity is a priority even in the face of COVID-19. Being there for our patients requires us to also be there for our employees by elevating internal wellness strategies.

Putting Safety First

Just days after the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, AON had assembled an emergency task force to map out a plan for keeping doctors, nurses and employees safe while still providing high-quality care to our patients, many of whom needed to continue receiving treatment.

The majority of our administrative employees transitioned to working remotely from home, armed with all the resources they needed to help create a secure, office-like environment. Our IT team accomplished this feat in about a week, and the outcome has proven positive: staff members who are telecommuting have maintained their normal levels of productivity with few exceptions.

The IT team also launched Telehealth services across all AON sites with over 5,200 telehealth visits completed since going live. This virtual care solution played a vital role in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and keeping our providers, employees and patients safe.

For employees such as nurse practitioners who are patient-facing and therefore unable to work from home, safety was crucial to our strategy. In addition to providing sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns and masks, we also conducted training on proper handling and use.

AON also adheres to the social distancing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Among these are spacing out appointment times and infusion chairs and screening all patients via questions on how they’re feeling, whether they have any COVID-like symptoms, where they’ve recently traveled, and if they’ve been exposed to anyone infected with the virus. In addition, employees are screened and their temperatures checked at the beginning and end of every shift. In addition to our daily cleaning services, our clinics also go through a deep clean once a week.

Because of our efficiency and ability to supply doctors, nurses and employees with the resources they need to be both safe and productive, AON was able to respond quickly to the pandemic and continue caring for our patients without interruption.

Supporting Our Staff

The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and has been a challenging experience for everyone. We opted to modify our benefit offerings to include 10 days of paid emergency sick leave (ESL) to any full or part-time, and PRN employee who needs to be quarantined or who is caring for a loved one who has been infected with the virus. This provision is in addition to our regular leave policy and allows employees to receive their full pay either intermittently or continuously. We also offer an advance of up to 40 hours of paid time off (PTO) for anyone who runs out of ESL, and all employees have access to the Teladoc service through to the end of December regardless of their participation in the AON medical plan. In addition, employees enrolled in the medical plan will see 100% coverage of any COVID-19-related expenses that employees may incur, such as testing and co-pays.

We are aware the pandemic has created challenges that extend far beyond the workplace. With schools and most summer camps closed, AON is especially sensitive to employees with small children. We strive to be flexible and nimble with their schedules and are taking extra steps by compiling important information on childcare and other family-focused services. Emotional crisis support is also available to all employees regardless of whether they participate in AON’s benefits program.

To boost morale, our managers have come up with fun, creative activities such as virtual celebrations and trivia games for employees who are telecommuting. At our clinic in Baton Rouge, La., employees swapped recipes and created an e-cookbook that also features contributions from other practices in the AON network. We’ve also supplied lunch for employees who aren’t able to work from home.

Safe, Happy Employees

AON recently surveyed employees to gauge the effectiveness of our COVID-19 provisions. The results were extremely positive – 81% were satisfied with our pandemic response and 87% were confident AON has taken the right precautions to minimize the impact of COVID-19. Additionally, 85% of employees working remotely said they had the necessary resources to maintain productivity.

At AON, our team members are heroes who have stepped up in times of crisis. It is up to us to make sure they are safe, comfortable and appreciated so they can continue carrying out the essential job of providing optimal care to our patients.

Expanding Options: What’s Next for Biosimilars in Oncology?

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted industries worldwide, and healthcare has not been immune. Oncology practices in particular are looking to recoup dollars lost to a decline in patient visits and, as the economy weakens and unemployment rises, patients are looking for financial assistance and relief from high-cost medications.

The current environment could lead to a spike in biosimilar use, which can increase economic efficiency without sacrificing patient safety and satisfaction. But oncology practices should not view biosimilars as just a temporary alternative. Rather, these options could become part of the ongoing strategy long after the intensity of the pandemic wanes and the economy rights itself.

And while they offer plenty of advantages for practices and patients, working with biosimilars can be complex and may require the need of a partner to help streamline the process.

The Positives of Biosimilars

The biggest advantage of biosimilars is the savings, with some priced at 20% to 40% lower than the existing reference product. Those prices will continue to decrease as the market becomes more saturated, increasing competition.

Biosimilars go through a different regulatory pathway to demonstrate similarity to a reference product. The FDA’s determination of biosimilarity is based on the totality of the evidence, which includes an extensive analytical comparison to show that the proposed biosimilar and reference products are highly similar in structure and function. Animal, human pharmacologic, immunologic and additional clinical data are added as needed to the analytical data in a stepwise fashion. This allows for a shorter approval time and lower costs to develop a product with no meaningful clinical difference.  

Consequently, oncologists can trust that there is no drop in the effectiveness and safety of the biosimilar drug while realizing the cost advantages for both the practice and patients.

Economically, oncologists benefit because the reimbursement for biosimilars is based on the average sales price plus 6% of the reference product, leading to small incremental profits for the practice. Because biosimilars are cheaper in cost, that eventually leads to savings on out-of-pocket costs for the patient.

The Need for a Network

While working with biosimilars can yield positive results, they also come with their own set of complexities that some independent practices may not have the bandwidth or expertise to handle.

Payer formularies vary widely as they relate to biosimilars. While one insurer may approve one biosimilar for specific indications, another may use a different one. Keeping up with these formulary variances is a daunting task for the average resource-strapped oncology practice; many either avoid using biosimilars or find themselves stuck in the administrative back and forth of claims denials.

American Oncology Network (AON) improves this outlook for its practice network through management and oversight of approved biosimilars. Our team keeps physicians current on formularies by insurer, streamlining processes and improving cash flow for practices and patients alike.

In addition, AON offers better buying and negotiating power, which leads to the purchase of more economical biosimilars. From an operational standpoint, AON alleviates a practice’s operational burdens by taking care of the drug purchasing and contracts.

If patients are wary about biosimilars, AON’s board-certified oncology pharmacists can assist in putting their minds at ease. Many independent practices lack the resources or manpower to create promotional collateral, instead relying on materials provided by the manufacturer—many of whom have had to shut down promotional departments due to COVID-19. AON can help educate patients on biosimilars with informative literature that is thorough but also written on a level that consumers can easily digest.

Cancer patients are dealing with enough stress – the last thing they need to do is worry about the safety and efficacy of their medications. Our team ensures patients know that biosimilars have the same potency, purity and safety as the reference medications.

The New Standard

The current global pandemic has underscored the clinical and financial advantages of biosimilars. Oncology practices should also consider how they may benefit from their use after the COVID-19 crisis is over.

By leaning on established networks such as AON to ease administrative burdens associated with using biosimilars, oncology practices can realize the benefits of expanded options for themselves and the patients in their care.

Advancing Interoperability to Enhance Cancer Care

Providers may have collectively breathed a sigh of relief when the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) extended the deadline for complying with new interoperability regulations. However, relaxing enforcement does not lessen the urgency around ensuring the secure exchange of and access to patient information.

In the field of oncology, interoperability is especially critical as access to comprehensive data not only impacts direct patient care, but also the clinical research that leads to life-saving treatment breakthroughs. Without the ability to share patient information across different channels, little progress can be made in our approach to cancer.

Interoperability Roadmap

In early March, HHS released two wide-ranging Final Rules around interoperability – one each from The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). These rules direct implementation of interoperability provisions spelled out in the 21st Century Cares Act to promote data exchange between providers and ensure patients can access their medical and claims information through application programming interfaces (APIs).

In April, the decision was made to extend compliance deadlines and relax enforcement for six months. As a result, providers have until November to comply with the ONC’s interoperability and information blocking rule, and implementation of CMS’s provisions for sharing admission, discharge and transfer notifications by Medicare providers goes into effect in spring 2021.

Even with the delay, the pressure on healthcare organizations across the board to step up their interoperability game remains intense. And for good reason: Having secure access to comprehensive patient information whenever and wherever it is needed is foundational to advancing the industry’s performance goals related to everything from quality of care and clinician workflow to population health strategies and scientific advances.

Eliminating Barriers

When it comes to interoperability, the seemingly insurmountable challenge for many small, independent oncology practices is the significant resource commitment required to update technology, build interfaces and ensure security. Even developing policies and procedures to guide data sharing and use can consume resources many small practices simply cannot spare.

This is where the right partner can make a huge difference. At American Oncology Network (AON), we have our own integration team to take the burden off our practices’ internal resources. Our team is able to install/upgrade and create the necessary interfaces quickly to ensure the secure flow of data between practices, hospitals, labs, pharmacies and other organizations within our network and each practice’s region—all guided by prevailing best practices to ensure optimal outcomes.

Our streamlined, scalable resources help advance interoperability and put critical patient data at clinicians’ fingertips, helping to drive improvements in patient care and clinician workflows. It also gives our practices a significant competitive edge in the market.

Improving Practices

More comprehensive patient data naturally informs better diagnostic and treatment decisions. It allows clinicians to closely monitor the effectiveness of drug therapies and allows for a more tailored approach to care, which can lead to better outcomes. On the research side, the ability to securely share deidentified patient data with AON’s research partners supports advances in cancer drugs and other therapies.

Interoperability also helps improve the way we practice medicine by streamlining workflows. The ability to access comprehensive and current patient information in one place, including histories, lab results and demographics, saves a tremendous amount of time that can instead be spent on actual patient care.

Moving Forward

Interoperability will undoubtedly remain an industry priority for the foreseeable future. While forward progress has been made, we have a long way to go before achieving full, meaningful interoperability. The guidance provided by ONC and CMS helps, as does seeing the benefits of broader data sharing firsthand.

We are currently dealing with an unprecedented explosion in the volume of data, and we are seeing a monthly increase in research, outcomes information, lab tests and drug development. The ability of healthcare organizations to analyze this data on the fly will soon become critical.

The rapid advancement of technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning will soon translate into even diagnostic support tools for physicians, adding further urgency to finding ways to deliver health information in an easily digestible manner. Meaningful aggregation of data is an absolute necessity, but it cannot happen without strong interoperability and collaboration between systems, healthcare organizations and government.

Overcoming cost and resource barriers by partnering with a network like AON can help independent oncology practices realize those benefits faster—and more economically—than they can on their own. The key is experienced implementation teams, economies of scale and a commitment to ensuring clinicians can focus on the patient, not the technology.

Drivers and Key Criteria for Successful Telehealth Programs

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought telehealth and telemedicine to the forefront of the American healthcare industry. Through laptops, tablets and a host of other devices, telehealth allows physicians to examine and diagnose their patients remotely to comply with current social distancing guidelines and combat the spread of this highly contagious and deadly virus.

Even before COVID-19 made its way to the United States, the American Oncology Network (AON) was advancing use of telehealth as an effective element of its care management services, using video conferencing to connect patients with nutritionists. This has proved beneficial for our practices who now need to ramp up telehealth systems quickly in response to the pandemic to ensure continuity of care and optimal safety for their patients.  

Strong systems that are easy to use and can adapt quickly to change are crucial to the design of successful telehealth programs, especially at a time when demand is at an all-time high.

Ramping Up Quickly

Implementing an effective telehealth system is a complex, resource-intensive undertaking. It’s a cross-functional effort requiring clinical, operational and technical teams to work together to prepare technologies, workflows and staffing models. Proper codes must be added, financial teams brought up to speed and staff trained on electronic medical records (EMR) and telehealth platforms. It can take weeks or months – and prove quite costly – for the average private practice. In addition, small, independent practices rarely employ full-time IT or security staff, necessitating help from outside professionals who are not likely to be familiar with oncology. This not only increases costs, but also lengthens implementation time.

However, AON providers were able to rapidly start treating their patients, drawing on our team’s expertise and scalable system designs. As demand for telehealth skyrocketed, we quickly identified an appropriate vendor, wrapped up the paperwork and helped our practices onboard the new system in less than 20 hours. After four days of training, our provider groups were seeing patients. So far, they have amassed 2,717 virtual visits – and counting.

In addition, practice administrators and providers have peace of mind knowing that our security experts are aligning systems with the latest best practices and can address potential issues in hours rather than days.

Keeping it Simple

When it came to choosing a telehealth solution, AON wanted a partner that was flexible, scalable and could adapt very quickly to change. Most importantly, we wanted to keep the system simple for physicians and their patients.

On the physician side, it was important that the solution offer streamlined navigation so providers could fire up their device and be on time for scheduled appointments. For patients, we wanted to minimize effort and resource requirements. As such, any device – laptop, cellphone, tablet, etc. – equipped with a camera and microphone allows them to log on and speak with their physician. Our systems do not require installation of any additional programs or apps – we simply send patients a link that runs natively in a browser, making telehealth easy and accessible for everyone to use, no matter how savvy they are when it comes to technology.

Customers Come First

The strength of AON isn’t just our systems, but the customer-first approach that drives our IT department. That’s why we were able to shift gears so quickly to handle the swift changes brought about by COVID-19, and why we were able to train more than 130 physicians and mid-level providers in one weekend, rather than our normal load of about 10 providers over the course of a week. Nursing professionals and social workers have since been added to training, expanding the spectrum of possible telehealth services.

We have providers of all different stripes when it comes to technology proficiency – and it doesn’t matter. AON is here to equip our practices with whatever they need, whether that means installing cameras or enabling secure online meetings.

While telehealth has its limits – physicians can’t physically examine their patients – the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored its effectiveness at supporting certain care processes. However, to be successful, a telehealth system must be implemented with patients and providers at the forefront, and it needs to be able to adapt to change. In preparation for expected surges in patients and the future of healthcare, oncology practices are wise to consider a strong partner to help guide the telehealth process.