Breaking down barriers to health equity

Nearly 2 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States this year. Cancer takes a toll on the lives of patients and their families, but underserved populations often face additional barriers when battling this disease. Some communities do not always have equal access to quality health care.

The challenge is magnified when patients are battling an unusual form of cancer, such as multiple myeloma. We at the Oncology Institute of Hope & Innovation take great pride in delivering the highest level of cancer care and treatment to underprivileged populations. Dr Omkar Marathe, medical director of clinical trials at the institute, believes that health equity should be essential in oncology. In addition to her responsibilities as medical director, Marathe also sees patients at his clinic in Long Beach, California.

Marathe’s motivation to become an oncologist started when he was 4 years old and he lost his grandfather to multiple myeloma. At the time, patients with multiple myeloma did not have long life spans after diagnosis. However, thanks to heroes like Marathe, today’s patients can live longer and their symptoms can be managed, thus improving their quality of life.

A Southern California native, Marathe received his BA (Hons) in Neuroscience from UCLA and his Doctor of Medicine from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He then trained in internal medicine at Scripps Green Hospital, followed by a hematology/oncology fellowship in the UCLA Olive View/Cedars Sinai program. Additionally, he scored perfect on the Oncology In-Training exam and is credited with publishing articles and conducting research in several areas of oncology, including HER2-positive breast cancer and ocular melanoma.

Marathe is a fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Society of Hematology. Most recently, Kev’s Best, a blog that rates companies on various criteria, named Marathe one of Long Beach’s top five oncologists.

Traditionally, healthcare organizations affiliated with large academic institutions such as UCLA and Stanford University conduct trials with participants who live near metropolitan areas. Marathe is bringing this evidence to Oncology Institute clinics in neighborhoods accessible to underprivileged communities. Runs about 10-15 trials at a time.

It enrolled 25 multiple myeloma patients in the studies, with most of the participants from underprivileged communities. Nationwide, only 10% of patients participating in clinical trials come from underprivileged communities. Under Marathe’s leadership, 40% to 50% of the participants in the Oncology Institute’s clinical trial are economically disadvantaged immigrants who do not speak English. Marathe believes that increasing access to these trials, particularly in these communities, is key to overcoming health inequalities.

Even the pharmaceutical companies that collaborate with Marathe see the advantage of having proposed new treatments tested on patients from different backgrounds. They would like to evaluate the effectiveness of proposed treatments with the general US population, which is very diverse.

Getting a first appointment with an oncologist is often difficult. However, Marathe has prioritized ensuring that first-time patients see it within a week or two of booking an appointment. She genuinely loves serving the community of Long Beach, California. Up to 60% of her patients are Medicaid beneficiaries who live locally.

Prioritizes fostering a deep, personal connection with each patient, emphasizing clear communication and education, while considering patients’ unique personal stories and cultural heritage. It also helps that he is fluent in Spanish and Hindu and can communicate directly with his patients.

Colleagues and patients consider Marathe a hero breaking down barriers in cancer care for the underprivileged.

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