One of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has brought many of the disparities of our healthcare system into sharper focus. In addition to gender and race, age, too, is a social determinant in the quality of care patients receive and the outcomes they experience. As we have seen in the case of COVID-19, patients over the age of 65 have been affected disproportionately, accounting for the majority of fatalities.
Unfortunately, this disparity is not limited to the treatment of contagious illness such as the coronavirus but extends into other areas of healthcare. Yet, age remains an underrecognized factor in the provision of patient care.
As a recent article in The Washington Post explained, cancer is another disease in which age plays a crucial role. According to the National Cancer Institute, 54% of cancer diagnoses are in people over age 65, and these patients account for 70% of cancer-related deaths. Despite this, people over age 65 are underrepresented in trials of new cancer therapies. Other studies have found that patients of advanced age with cancer are often denied appropriate medical treatment for their disease. In addition, obstacles such as the rules governing insurance payments to providers and issues with transportation and mobility create the barriers to care with which oncology navigators are well acquainted.
In an effort to understand the needs of senior patients, Pfizer Oncology is working in collaboration with a number of organizations dedicated to the study and treatment of cancer, including the American Cancer Society and the Association of Community Cancer Centers. The Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators (AONN+) is proud to be a part of this initiative to mitigate disparities in care and is working with Pfizer Oncology to create a Navigator Module that will provide education for oncology nurse navigators and patient navigators on how to support the needs of older people living with cancer, including a focus on people of color.