Breaking Barriers for Health Equity

Almost 2 million people will receive a diagnosis of cancer in the United States this year. Cancer strongly impacts the lives of patients and their families, yet underserved populations often face additional barriers when battling this disease. Some communities don’t always have equitable access to quality health care.

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

Marathe’s motivation to become an oncologist began when he was 4 years old and he lost his grandfather to multiple myeloma. At the time, patients with multiple myeloma did not have a long life span after diagnosis. However, thanks to heroes such as Marathe, patients today can live longer and their symptoms can be managed, hereby enhancing their quality of life. 

A native of Southern California, Marathe received his bachelor’s (with honors) in neurosciences at UCLA and his MD degree 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 made a perfect score on the Oncology In-Training exam and is credited with publishing papers and conducting research in different areas of oncology, including HER2-positive breast cancer and ocular melanoma.

Marathe is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Society of Hematology. Most recently, Kev’s Best, a blog that rates businesses based on various criteria, named Marathe as one of the five best oncologists in Long Beach. 

Traditionally, health organizations affiliated with large academic institutions such as UCLA and Stanford University conduct trials with participants who live close to metropolitan areas. Marathe is bringing these trials to The Oncology Institute clinics in neighborhoods accessible to underserved communities. He runs approximately10 to 15 trials at a time.

He has enrolled 25 patients with multiple myeloma in trials, with most participants coming from underserved communities.Nationally, only 10% of patients who participate in clinical trials come from underserved communities. Under Marathe’s leadership, 40% to 50% of The Oncology Institute’s clinical trial participants are economically disadvantaged immigrants who don’t speak English. Marathe believes increasing access to these trials, particularly in these communities, is key to overcoming health inequity.

Pharmaceutical companies that partner with Marathe also see the benefit of having proposed new treatments tested on patients from diverse backgrounds. They would like to assess the effectiveness of proposed treatments with the general U.S. population, which is very diverse. 

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

He prioritizes fostering a deep, personal connection with each patient by emphasizing clear communication and education while considering patients’ unique personal stories and cultural heritage. It also helps that he speaks Spanish and Hindu fluently and can directly communicate with his patients. 

Colleagues and patients consider Marathe a hero breaking barriers in oncology care for the underserved.

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