Access to Innovations Is Major Patient Concern

Published March 1, 2007

A cancer patient sees a news report on the TV, or on the Internet, about a new treatment technology. She calls her oncologist, hoping to access the technology immediately.

When she gets the doctor on the phone, she learns the news report was really about research findings and a technology that is only in its initial stages of testing. It is not yet ready for use in medical practice.

The patient feels let down, but not by the news report hyping the story. Instead, she feels disappointed by the doctor and the entire medical community. She knows about a new innovation that could be helpful to her, but she can’t use it.

Patients Need Access

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America, we’ve seen this happen to hundreds of patients we have met. Our corporate policy is to try to connect the patients with the doctors conducting the study, even if those doctors are located at another hospital. This is our ethical imperative and an integral part of our standard of care, as it should be for others.

But we are not alone. Other doctors, in an array of specialty fields, see this phenomenon in patients who are critically ill. We believe this raises several policy issues for health care providers, as well as regulators on the federal and state levels.

A global study released last August confirms these anecdotal findings about patients’ perceptions of new technologies.

The study, the Burson-Marsteller Global Issues Index, is based on a poll of more than 2,700 individuals defined as the general public and 1,600 business executives in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. It was conducted by the global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller in partnership with Penn, Schoen, Berland & Associates.

According to the poll, consumers worldwide say the leading issue is having “the ability to pay for health care for myself or family.” But it also demonstrated another leading concern for consumers is their “ability to access advanced medical care and technology.”

Information Is Empowerment

This global survey triggers the opportunity to start rethinking how we in the medical community and in the health care policy-making worlds can respond to this pressing concern of patients.

A step toward that might be making experimental drugs available immediately to seriously ill patients who have no other treatment options available now. That has been proposed in Congress and backed by many cancer survivors and their families. We support the idea.

Americans enjoy the most technologically advanced society the world has ever known, getting the latest and greatest digital communications technologies for their homes and cars right away, when they see them on TV.

But innovation in medicine is different. An iPod is not a Tomotherapy device. The regulatory review and approval process can take many years to complete, and though medical companies generally include the disclaimer that the new technology has the “potential” to effect cures, this context is generally left out of consumer perceptions.

Access, Disclosure Essential

There are already enough rules from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on drug and device development. What is needed is a more consumer-centric view of the availability of health care innovation. Especially for patients with life-threatening conditions, every possibility for access to innovations should be explored, as long as the risks are fully disclosed to patients and their families.

The health care innovation community needs to think more like these patients and act with the empathy that is at the core of this industry.

Empathy Is Solution

That is also the advice of major consulting firms such as Bain and Co., which advises Fortune 1000 companies. The companies showing the fastest organic growth practice the Golden Rule in all their dealings with consumers. The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” suggests drug and device developers should put themselves in their customers’ shoes when thinking about how and when to release new technologies.

A fascinating business book, The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth (Harvard Business School Press, 2006), by Fred Reichheld of Bain, details how major technology companies such as and listen to their customers and try to live by the Golden Rule when dealing with them.

Major hospitals are employing this strategy as well. A patient empowered with accurate information and the latest therapies is likely to have a more successful outcome than one who is not.

Drug and device developers will earn the trust of their customers by being careful to foster the right expectations about their forthcoming products. Hospitals and doctors can then focus on educating patients about therapies that have been shown to have promise, and allow the patients and their families to decide if they want to use the developing technology.

This will turn patients into promoters, rather than detractors, of medical products.

Edgar D. Staren M.D., Ph.D, M.B.A. ([email protected]) is chief medical officer and senior vice president of clinical affairs for Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Stephen B. Bonner ([email protected]) is president and chief executive officer of Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

For more information …

A summary of the Burson-Marsteller Global Issues Index is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to and search for document #20545.

A Webcast discussing the Global Issues Index is available online at