Most Community-Based Oncologists Skip Biomarker Testing

Sharon Worcester

September 23, 2021

A recent survey shows that fewer than half of community oncologists use biomarker testing to guide patient discussions about treatment, which compares with 73% of academic clinicians.

The findings, reported at the 2020 World Conference on Lung Cancer, which was rescheduled for January 2021, highlight the potential for unequal application of the latest advances in cancer genomics and targeted therapies throughout the health care system, which could worsen existing disparities in underserved populations, according to Leigh Boehmer, PharmD, medical director for the Association of Community Cancer Centers, Rockville, Md.

The survey – a mixed-methods approach for assessing practice patterns, attitudes, barriers, and resource needs related to biomarker testing among clinicians – was developed by the ACCC in partnership with the LUNGevity Foundation and administered to clinicians caring for patients with non–small cell lung cancer who are uninsured or covered by Medicaid.

Of 99 respondents, more than 85% were physicians and 68% worked in a community setting. Only 40% indicated they were very familiar or extremely familiar with 2018 Molecular Testing Guidelines for Lung Cancer from the College of American Pathologists, the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, and the Association for Molecular Pathology.

Clinicians were most confident about selecting appropriate tests to use, interpreting test results, and prognosticating based on test results, with 77%, 74%, and 74%, respectively, saying they are very confident or extremely confident in those areas. They were less confident about determining when to order testing and in coordinating care across the multidisciplinary team, with 59% and 64%, respectively, saying they were very confident or extremely confident in those areas, Boehmer reported at the conference.

The shortcomings with respect to communication across teams were echoed in two focus groups convened to further validate the survey results, he noted.

As for the reasons why clinicians ordered biomarker testing, 88% and 82% of community and academic clinicians, respectively, said they did so to help make targeted treatment decisions.

"Only 48% of community clinicians indicated that they use biomarker testing to guide patient discussions, compared to 73% of academic clinicians," he said. "That finding was considered statistically significant."

With respect to decision-making about biomarker testing, 41% said they prefer to share the responsibility with patients, whereas 52% said they prefer to make the final decision.

"Shedding further light on this situation, focus group participants expressed that patients lacked comprehension and interest about what testing entails and what testing means for their treatment options," Boehmer noted.

In order to make more informed decisions about biomarker testing, respondents said they need more information on financial resources for patient assistance (26%) and education around both published guidelines and practical implications of the clinical data (21%).

When asked about patients' information needs, 23% said their patients need psychosocial support, 22% said they need financial assistance, and 9% said their patients have no additional resource needs.

However, only 27% said they provide patients with resources related to psychosocial support services, and only 44% share financial assistance information, he said.

Further, the fact that 9% said their patients need no additional resources represents "a disconnect" from the findings of the survey and focus groups, he added.

"We believe that this study identifies key areas of ongoing clinician need related to biomarker testing, including things like increased guideline familiarity, practical applications of guideline-concordant testing, and … how to optimally coordinate multidisciplinary care delivery," Boehmer said. "Professional organizations … in partnership with patient advocacy organizations or groups should focus on developing those patient education materials … and tools for improving patient-clinician discussions about biomarker testing."

The ACCC will be working with the LUNGevity Foundation and the Center for Business Models in Healthcare to develop an intervention to ensure that such discussions are "easily integrated into the care process for every patient," he noted.

Such efforts are important for ensuring that clinicians are informed about the value of biomarker testing and about guidelines for testing so that patients receive the best possible care, said invited discussant Joshua Sabari, MD, of New York University Langone Health's Perlmutter Cancer Center.

"I know that, in clinic, when meeting a new patient with non–small cell lung cancer, it's critical to understand the driver alteration, not only for prognosis, but also for goals-of-care discussion, as well as potential treatment option," Sabari said.

Boehmer reported consulting for Pfizer. Sabari reported consulting and advisory board membership for multiple pharmaceutical companies.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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