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Bringing proton therapy to pediatric patients

por Lisa Chamoff, Contributing Reporter | March 22, 2021
Rad Oncology Pediatrics Proton Therapy
From the March 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine


Many organizations help increase access. The nonprofit Compass to Care provides financial assistance for patients who need to travel and covers housing for all kinds of cancer treatment, receiving donations, grants and hosting events to raise money.

“Our main goal is to ensure it’s not just people who have the financial means to get their children this treatment,” said Michelle Ernsdorff-May, Compass to Care’s founder.

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Ernsdorff-May notes that some medical centers don’t have access to facilities like the Ronald McDonald House and need to create partnerships with nearby hotels to house patients for several weeks at a time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the organization’s work extra challenging, with plane travel more risky and some of the housing providers limiting capacity. The numbers of patients going into treatment dropped in April, May and June of 2020 and saw a large uptick in September, October and November.

“Medical centers we’ve never worked with are coming to us,” Ernsdorff-May said.

It can also be difficult for parents to take time off work to travel long distances for treatment.

“To try to find some equity by increasing access for those families is vital,” Ernsdorff-May said.

Looking ahead
In the long term, the construction of more proton centers will continue to improve access, though the health coverage landscape and less prevalent expertise in pediatric cancer complicates things for younger patients who will benefit the most.

Pediatric patients should be treated in centers that see a high volume and can optimize the care for the pediatric malignancies which are very different than adult cancers, said Yock of Mass General.

Yock notes that the situation is especially difficult for underinsured patients in states that don’t have proton centers, such as North Carolina or Nevada. Patients in those states have limited or no options for proton radiotherapy, depending on the state Medicaid rules. Notably, other private insurers are now dictating which proton centers children can go to, and this is usually based on cost and proximity, Yock said.

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