PURPOSE: Financial toxicity negatively affects patients with cancer, especially racial/ethnic minorities. Patient-oncologist discussions about treatment-related costs may reduce financial toxicity by factoring costs into treatment decisions. This study investigated the frequency and nature of cost discussions during clinical interactions between African American patients and oncologists and examined whether cost discussions were affected by patient sociodemographic characteristics and social support, a known buffer to perceived financial stress.
METHODS: Video recorded patient-oncologist clinical interactions (n = 103) from outpatient clinics of two urban cancer hospitals (including a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center) were analyzed. Coders studied the videos for the presence and duration of cost discussions and then determined the initiator, topic, oncologist response to the patient's concerns, and the patient's reaction to the oncologist's response.
RESULTS: Cost discussions occurred in 45% of clinical interactions. Patients initiated 63% of discussions; oncologists initiated 36%. The most frequent topics were concern about time off from work for treatment (initiated by patients) and insurance (initiated by oncologists). Younger patients and patients with more perceived social support satisfaction were more likely to discuss cost. Patient age interacted with amount of social support to affect frequency of cost discussions within interactions. Younger patients with more social support had more cost discussions; older patients with more social support had fewer cost discussions.
CONCLUSION: Cost discussions occurred in fewer than one half of the interactions and most commonly focused on the impact of the diagnosis on patients' opportunity costs rather than treatment costs. Implications for ASCO's Value Framework and design of interventions to improve cost discussions are discussed.