Consolidating cancer care into a one-stop centre
Shock and disbelief – these are the typical reactions when one is diagnosed with cancer.
Others may comfort you by saying: “You are not alone” or “You can fight this”, but the reality is that cancer patients are often left scrambling on their journey as there are so many aspects of care and management to be tackled.
Cancer patients start their journey from the moment they find an abnormal mass, either by accident or through cancer screening.
After vigorous diagnostic procedures, a treatment plan will be formulated by their oncologist.
However, patients frequently have to seek treatment from multiple institutions or healthcare providers, which makes the cancer journey fragmented and complicated.
Cancer can also be draining financially, especially when patients don’t know how or where to go to for assistance.
According to the 2015 Asean Costs in Oncology (Action) study, a high percentage of cancer-stricken households in low- and middle- income countries in South-East Asia, including Malaysia, experienced catastrophic expenditure and impoverishment within just one year from cancer diagnosis.
That’s the situation Fara Aida Farid, 48, found herself in after she no longer had employer insurance coverage when she quit her job in 2014.
She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and sought treatment at a private hospital until 2013.
Once she quit her job as a human resource executive, she decided to forego her follow-up appointments as she worried that her finances would dry up as she had no personal medical insurance.
She told herself that the cancer was in remission and she felt well.
And indeed, all was well for three years.
Then, she shares: “One day in 2017, I noticed a skin lesion on my right breast and I knew I had to seek medical advice.
“That’s when I was told the cancer had returned.
“I had to use all my EPF (Employees’ Provident Fund) savings for the treatment of my recurrent disease.
“Fortunately, I was later introduced to a clinical trial treatment where the costs for scans, blood tests and other assessments required by the study protocol were performed at no cost.”
Otherwise, Fara, who is still on the trial treatment, would have to fork out around RM7,000 a month for her medication.
What patients like Fara need is a one-stop cancer centre or integrated cancer care that can help ease some of the difficulties of the cancer journey.
An integrated approach provides the patient with the usual cancer management and treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, behavioural health services, nutritional support and other conventional tools, while also supporting their strength, stamina and quality of life with vocational therapies and counselling.
Instead of running from one place to the other, or giving up on treatment altogether due to financial hardship, cancer patients can greatly benefit from such integrated cancer care.
One of Asia’s first connected oncology networks is Integrated Oncology Centres, which recently partnered with Beacon Hospital in Malaysia to provide this one-stop service.
According to consultant oncologist Datuk Dr Ibrahim Wahid, cancer treatment is becoming more and more specialised.
“There are big hospitals in Malaysia where cancer is part of what they do, but people are moving towards more specialised centres.
“The step-by-step process is the same everywhere, but the key question to ask is if the hospital has the same facilities available.
“For instance, do all hospitals have a PET (positron emission tomography) scan?
“Do they have the right ma- chines to diagnose and treat?
“When all the facilities are available, patients can get all the required treatment and services in a one place,” he says.
Dr Wahid adds that if patients have exhausted their insurance and need chemotherapy in a private hospital, the cost can go up to RM6,000 per cycle, with six cycles resulting in a total cost of RM36,000.
If a hospital has a corporate social responsibility (CSR) fund, patients can apply for funding, and if approved, they only need to pay a fraction of the amount (e.g. RM500 per cycle at Beacon Hospital).
Patients don’t need to go elsewhere to seek financial help.
Currently, Fara is depending on her monthly Socso (Social Security Organisation) payments to fund her daily expenses and other treatment costs.
“My most recent radiotherapy was also subsidised under the hospital’s CSR programme as I wasn’t able to afford the full treatment.
“I feel my overall journey battling this disease could have been better if I had no financial constraints.
“But I am also very thankful to the hospital for always considering giving discounts to patients who can’t afford to pay for their treatment,” she says.
Beyond medications, therapies and finances, a one-stop centre also offers support and educational programmes that help patients deal with the emotional and physical effects of cancer and prepare them for a healthier life after treatment.
This article was orginally published on The Star on Nov 22, 2021