On Wednesday, March 3, SNMMI along with the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA) and the Council on Radionuclides and Radiopharmaceuticals, Inc. (CORAR), hosted a virtual briefing with physicians, patients, and industry representatives. Discussions centered on the need to provide patient access to innovative nuclear diagnostics and the growing role of PET, SPECT, and nuclear medicine in detecting prostate cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other life-threatening diseases.

Attended by a broad coalition of patient and provider stakeholders, the briefing included presentations from SNMMI member Tom Hope, MD, director of molecular therapy in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco, and Joel Nowak, co-founder and CEO of Cancer ABCs and a cancer thriver and advocate who has been diagnosed and treated for five primary cancers, including advanced prostate cancer.

“At a time when millions of Americans have delayed or avoided regular screening care amid the COVID-19 public health emergency, allowing access to advanced diagnostic imaging procedures that can better detect deadly diseases earlier—when they are most treatable—is essential,” says event master of ceremonies Michael J. Guastella, executive director of CORAR, who delivered the briefing’s opening remarks.

“Unfortunately, due to arcane Medicare reimbursement policies, patients and their doctors are unable to fully leverage the benefits of these innovative diagnostic imaging tools. This ongoing problem undermines public health and incentivizes the use of less effective screening modalities,”  he said.

Following Guastella’s remarks, Hope provided an overview of the latest advancements in PET imaging in identifying prostate cancer. “PET using a PET-radiopharmaceutical is a highly effective way to detect prostate cancer throughout the body, allowing for more targeted, selective treatment,” said Hope. “Given the many benefits of these modalities in staging or localizing recurrence of dangerous diseases such as prostate cancer, I firmly believe that PET imaging is the best way to evaluate patients with prostate cancer.”

After Hope offered his perspective on the growing clinical applications of PET imaging, Joel Nowak discussed his personal experience battling metastatic prostate cancer and the central role of diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals in supporting his road to recovery.

“Fighting advanced prostate cancer is a trying experience that has a lasting impact on thousands of American families every year,” Joel noted. “For me, diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals and other advanced screening procedures were an essential part of my treatment pathway. That’s why I urge policymakers and other interested parties to fight to provide access to these life-saving tools so that more patients can benefit from the advantages of earlier detection and targeted treatment.” 

Following-up on Joel’s patient testimonial, Ann Marie Dawidczyk, vice president of patient access at Blue Earth Diagnostics and chair of the MITA Coverage, Coding & Payment Committee, provided an overview of Medicare’s current reimbursement policy and the ways others can help advocate for a solution, including supporting legislation to support access to innovative radiopharmaceutical diagnostics.

“Despite having demonstrated health benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, outdated CMS payment methodologies create significant, often insurmountable access barriers to a newer, more precise generation of PET and SPECT diagnostic imaging modalities. To provide patient access, improve treatment outcomes, and incentivize the research and development of future diagnostic breakthroughs, these structural reimbursement barriers must be addressed,” Dawidczyk said.

“Therefore, we urge all attendees to join us in supporting the proposed FIND Act, which, if passed, would update Medicare reimbursement policy to grant greater access to innovative diagnostic radiopharmaceuticals for patients,” she concluded.