Running an oncology practice can be a challenge. DocWire News spoke with Heather Morel, PhD, MBA, President of Provider Solutions at McKesson, who spoke about five things oncologists should know about efficient practice operations. Dr. Morel, who spent years as the Chief Operations Officer for The US Oncology Network, also explained the role artificial intelligence will play in the future of running a successful oncology practice.

DocWire News: Can you provide us with some background on yourself, and your role as President of Provider Solutions at McKesson?

Dr. Heather Morel: Yeah, I’d love to. Thank you for having me. I am the president of provider solutions. That means I have one of the greatest jobs. I get to work with a very talented team of folks that support our oncology practices in The US Oncology Network as well as in our Onmark practices. These are our GPO practices that work out in the community and in hospital outpatient segments, that treat patients and take care of patients across the United States. We provide clinical and support technology services to support them in their fight against cancer.

What are some challenges oncologists face in running a practice?

Oh gosh, well, oncologists today have a myriad of challenges, and certainly being two years in a pandemic is not simplifying the challenges that the medical oncologists face. They’re under pressure, obviously, as we all know, from not only the reimbursement challenges that continue to come up but the complexity of technology, selecting and maintaining and providing for a safe, i.e. hacker-proof environment, but also a technology environment that works well and is efficient, an environment that’s patient-centric, but also works to keep that provider efficient and provides for that provider environment, which would include also the other providers that practice alongside the oncologist.

Oftentimes in today’s environment, it’s going to be the nurse practitioner, the nurses, and pharmacists that are important caregivers in the medical oncology office. We cannot forget them. They provide a lot of the care that surround our patients today, and together, that care team work to really utilize technology. That is not easy, we know. There’s the practice management systems. There are the patient systems. There’s working through the reimbursement hurdles, all of those kinds of things. So there’s many, many issues associated with those technologies, bringing them all together, but also getting through the administrative burdens of the payer systems, and then just staying ahead of the trends.

Today, the clinical aspects of care have gotten just exponentially more challenging every day. There is new approvals on either existing products or new information to learn about precision medicine and just constantly staying abreast of how to care for our patients as generalists, as medical oncologists in the market, and then just being on top of each and every diagnosis and all of the opportunities for new treatments. And then bringing clinical research to patients in the community, as many, many of our practices do adds another layer of complexity and opportunity for the practices. So it really is an amazing system of care that the medical oncologist, the modern medical oncologist has in the community and through their amazing practices and their system of care to help patients through their cancer journeys.

What are five things oncologists can do optimize practice efficiency?

Yeah, only five. Wow. Yeah. But top of mind, obviously, staying ahead of the trends or abreast of trends, knowing what is coming, and understanding on the horizon what are particularly on a state and a legislative basis is critically important for each of the practices that we work with. Maintaining the knowledge of what is happening in your state and at the legislative level is critically important. Being aware, understanding how reimbursement environments can shift, understanding the laws and where your practice is headed and how you can influence and having a voice … and that is critically important.

Partnering … Try not to go it alone. Work with your state and your partners. Work with a team that can help you. So COA is a great group, or ACCC. Plus your business and your pharmacy partners … We know that your GPO is a great partner to reach out to, your optimization team. They can help you better understand how to work through the challenges that your practice may face.

Using technology in an appropriate way, not overusing it, but finding a few select technologies each year to optimize and focus in on one or two things strategically to advance your practice, to become more efficient, diversifying your revenue streams, not being focused on only one aspect of your practice but making sure, in addition to your infusion center, that you think about if medically integrating dispensary is an option, thinking about how you’re going to ensure that that is being fed appropriately, and nurturing that team, your pharmacy … Perhaps surgical could be added to your practice and other subspecialties, for example.

And then finally, keeping the patient at the center … Remember that always the patient becomes and is the center of your practice and that patient experience, the referrals that come in, measuring how they come in, where they come in, and ensuring that the captures continue to come and watching where they come from and how they come in and ensuring that you’re doing a great job with the patients that you do care for. That’s critically important.

How big a role will artificial intelligence play in the future of running a successful oncology practice?

I love to think about a space-age practice in the future, but I do think about AI maybe providing incremental opportunities. We’re starting to experiment in our specialty pharmacy business at McKesson with AI being able to predict risk, risk for patients more at risk for hospitalization on certain medications and using that in order to direct additional nursing care services of those patients and therefore prevent hospitalization, so incremental and important opportunities that way. So I do think of it as experimentation toward directing resources appropriately to those at highest risk.

Any closing thoughts?

Hey, hang in there. I know that it’s been a journey through the pandemic, and we’re all stretched. Be kind to one another. That’s the best way to get through it.