Cancer care at home: Pilot program shows promise

Horizon, Cancer Institute, RWJBH team up on infusions

Cancer care at home? A pilot program is making it possible.

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health announced they are partnering with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey to launch a collaborative pilot program that provides home infusion cancer treatments for eligible patients. 

The Horizon Home Infusion Pilot Program delivers oncology care to patients in the comfort of their own home with the goal of preventing disruption of chemotherapy during the coronavirus pandemic and limiting exposure to hospital settings.

Officials from all of the groups said the program, which launched in September 2020, is an effort to maintain care at a time when the pandemic has led many patients — especially those who are immunocompromised — to seek more telehealth options because of concerns about leaving their home for care.

The program, which currently treats patients with varied types of cancer, provides one-on-one care and close monitoring by the home health care provider throughout the entire infusion period. It is expected to achieve similar or improved cost impact while enhancing overall patient experience — and opens more bed space for these treatments at the traditional infusing settings. 

Dr. Steve Libutti, the director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute and a senior vice president of oncology services at RWJBarnabas Health, said patient care always is at the forefront of treatment.

“We take tremendous pride in ensuring our patients come first and are committed to providing the highest level of care coupled with excellent patient experience and satisfaction,” he said. “Offering the opportunity to transition eligible patients from infusion centers to home-based infusion of chemotherapy for the first time in New Jersey speaks to our mission of providing the most compassionate, world-class cancer care and is what we strive to do with this pilot program.”

Eligibility for participation in the pilot is based on chemotherapy regimen and level of safety. The patient’s infusion regimens are then assessed, the most appropriate infusion system and medications are selected, and care is coordinated by home health aides and oncology-trained infusion nurses.

Throughout the program, clinical outcomes, safety parameters, time-to-care delivery, patient/nursing satisfaction and physician satisfaction are being measured, which will help to establish a clinically effective program in the future as an option for eligible patients beyond the pandemic.

Dr. Andrew Evans, associate director for clinical services at the Rutgers Cancer Institute and medical director of the Oncology Service Line at RWJBarnabas Health, said the institutions have been pleased with the impact.

“The measures we have taken, and will continue to take, at the Rutgers Cancer Institute together with RWJBarnabas Health to provide cancer care during the pandemic have made our health care system stronger and will make cancer care better for patients,” he said. “Just as the implementation of telemedicine has changed how cancer care is delivered, through this innovative pilot program, we know that cancer treatment can be delivered safely, effectively and less expensively at home.”

Horizon officials said they are happy to be involved in the effort — which clearly is meeting a need and helping care.

Dr. Saira Jan, the chief pharmacy officer for Horizon, said organization is responding to a need.

“While cancer patients were not initially part of Horizon’s Home Infusion program, it became clear during the pandemic that our members were putting off life-saving treatments and therapies, so we looked for innovative partners to expand at-home treatment into oncology,” she said. “By partnering with the Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health, providers and payers are piloting new ways to make the cancer care experience safe, simpler and more convenient for the patient.”

Allen Karp, an executive vice president for health care and transformation management at Horizon, agreed.

“The pandemic challenged Horizon to close gaps in care that were emerging in real time and required creative solutions, especially for members who could not travel to receive their oncology treatments,” he said. “Transforming health care means collaborating with like-minded partners to develop solutions that improve outcomes and the patient experience, and this program reflects that kind of shared vision for care innovation.”