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Merck Leads Alliance for Patient-Centered Cancer Care Access

The Alliance will facilitate access to patient-centered cancer care that meets the needs of underserved populations.

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- The Merck Foundation has selected six health systems to form the Alliance to Advance Patient-Centered Cancer Care, issuing a total of $15 million in grants over five years to improve patient access to cancer care in underserved populations.

According to Merck leaders, these awards will foster innovative approaches to delivering patient-centered cancer care, helping to improve quality of life and treatment access for the millions of patients diagnosed with cancer annually.

“With 1.7 million Americans newly diagnosed with cancer each year, there is a great need to improve the quality and delivery of patient-centered care to help address the significant challenges of those facing this diagnosis,” said Julie L. Gerberding, Chief Patient Officer at Merck.

“These superb program sites and the National Program Office should accelerate identification and uptake of innovations that benefit patients, improve health communications, and enhance the overall coordination of care,” continued Gerberding, who is also the Chief Executive Officer at Merck Foundation.

The grant winners are Grady Health System, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, and the University of Arizona.  Merck has also selected the University of Michigan School of Nursing as the Alliance’s National Program Office.

Selection criteria included organizational leadership, technical advances, and overall commitment to patient-centered care, the company said.

Merck will track the progress of its Alliance members, eventually using those findings to develop a report on best practices for expanding access to and delivering patient-centered cancer care.

At the University of Arizona College of Medicine, researchers received a $1.99 million grant to improve access to cancer care for Latino and other underserved populations in southern Arizona.

Led by Heidi Hamann, PhD, associate professor in UA’s Departments of Psychology and Family and Community Medicine, the grant will fund projects aimed at improving cancer care through better care coordination, patient engagement, and patient-provider communication training.

Hamann and her team also intend for projects to help meet patient preferences in their cancer care and guide shared clinical decision-making. Other projects will work to deliver culturally sensitive healthcare that accounts for unique needs of underserved patient populations.

Ultimately, Hamann hopes this funding, which will benefit multiple UA departments as well as its independent community partners, will help to drive cancer outcomes.

“The Merck Foundation funding will have a profound effect on the lives of people in our region. Working together with our community partners, we can improve access to high-quality cancer care, and with better outcomes,” Dr. Hamann said.

According to UA President Ann Weaver Hart, this funding will help the University maintain its presence in the community, helping to create multiple touch-points for patients managing a complex disease such as cancer.

“This grant from the Merck Foundation builds on the University of Arizona’s strong history of collaboration with community partners throughout Southern Arizona,” she said. “Their support advances our work to enhance the quality of life for everyone in Arizona, and I am grateful for all this will allow the UA to accomplish.”

Currently, care coordination and patient engagement are lacking in cancer care. A May 2016 report from CancerCare shows that most patients do not receive adequate cancer care planning or education, leading to limited patient engagement. Others reported that their individual needs and concerns and not sufficiently addressed by their providers.

As the healthcare industry continues to emphasize access to patient-centered care, it will be important for all providers to develop strategies for catering to patient needs. These grants are aimed at ensuring that patients – even those with unique preferences or care barriers – are able to access treatment that is both empathetic and effective.