The Hidden Financial Toll of Cancer Clinical Trials – By Paul McCabe

  • 4Minutes

A study published in 2021 by The Oncologist revealed a serious and often overlooked aspect of the cancer journey—the financial burden experienced by patients participating in clinical trials. 

The study’s insights allow us to pause and reflect on the clinical journey and what we can all do to reduce this toll and make healthcare more accessible. 

In this article, I look at the data provided and how we can turn this into an opportunity to deliver higher standards of care, removing financial barriers at each stage of the clinical journey.

The impact of out-of-pocket costs on patients

The economic burden on patients in clinical trials is not a mere inconvenience. More often, it is an overwhelming reality, causing a risk of participants dropping out of studies or feeling unable to join them entirely. 

When considered from the perspective of socio-economic status, age, and income, out-of-pocket costs can have a detrimental effect on patients and their families. When trial participation depends on the individual’s financial situation, we further widen the inequality gap that permeates our healthcare system. 

The current economic landscape, marked by record-high inflation, rising fuel costs, and increasing prices across the board, further exacerbates the strain on these patients and their support systems.

The distances traveled by cancer patients to access oncological care are staggering, with many journeying over 300 miles for a single visit. When combined with the costs of cancer treatment and inadequate coverage provided by insurance plans, it’s no wonder that many patients dip into their savings, borrow from family, or even deplete their retirement accounts to fund their care. 

However, it’s not simply travel expenses that weigh heavily on patients’ shoulders. Unanticipated medical and non-medical costs are also prevalent in the industry. In this study, 55% of patients reported unforeseen medical costs, while 64% faced non-medical expenses. These unexpected financial burdens can disrupt the patients’ lives and those of their families and loved ones.

The toll of financial stress on mental health

A study conducted in 2023 found a significant association between poor mental health and financial stress, worsened still depending on the individual’s socio-economic status. It is crucial to consider that if we want more diverse clinical trial participants, we must ensure we minimize their financial burden to support their mental well-being.

In the case of clinical trials, it’s not uncommon for patients and their families to miss work to attend treatment visits. Lack of consistent work and a change of work patterns, combined with the strain imposed by the medical condition itself, add a layer of stress that can be detrimental to their overall well-being and recovery.

We need to work together to make a difference

Given these profound challenges, we must prioritize support for those who volunteer to participate in clinical trials. Swift and flexible reimbursement mechanisms are not a luxury but a moral imperative.

I have spoken with many sites that have stated they do not have the funds readily available to reimburse patients, which can lead to weeks or even months of delays. Given the patient’s situation, this is unacceptable. 

Payments are also often restricted by modalities that sponsors decide early in contract negotiations with vendors. We must consider what is best for the clinical research participants from the beginning of the study design. 

As each person’s situation is different, their needs will be too. Moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to participant support is vital. 

Patients should be able to decide which payment type is best for them. I am proud of SkyePay’s diverse payment options. Patients can be paid via bank transfer, Paypal, Venmo, or prepaid card,  ensuring patients can choose the most convenient and cost-effective way to receive their reimbursements.

Conclusion

This study is a stark reminder of patients’ real-world challenges in clinical trials. We are each responsible for leveraging our expertise to alleviate this burden, ensuring patients receive the support they deserve without adding unnecessary stress to their already challenging journey toward recovery. 

As Skyelarke’s Senior Director of Product Development, I believe it is time to bridge the gap between technology and compassion, ensuring our healthcare systems truly prioritize the well-being of every individual, regardless of their socio-economic status or age. This patient-first approach will also help to alleviate many challenges faced by the clinical trials industry.

Want to discuss how you can eliminate the financial burden of clinical trials for your patients? Get in touch.

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