New research is shedding light on a challenge facing newly diagnosed cancer patients as they seek care. In a University of Pennnsylvania Perelman School of Medicine study, only one-third of simulated patients were able to secure an appointment with an oncologist. From a release:
In the study, research assistants attempted to call 160 U.S. hospitals under three different circumstances each, varying only their insurance status as they explained their scripted patient situation, which involved a new diagnosis of an inoperable liver cancer. Callers reached a scheduler 79 percent of the time, but only 29 percent of those callers received appointments. Of the appointments ultimately scheduled, 35 percent required multiple calls to complete the process. In nearly a quarter of cases, callers failed to reach staff even after three attempts. Among reasons for denial of appointments or inability to schedule: Demand for medical records (39 percent), not being able to reach appropriate schedulers (24 percent), and referral requirements (18 percent).
The authors note that the access problems revealed in the study may become more urgent in the coming years, given Institute of Medicine and ASCO projections showing a widening gap between the number of people living with cancer and the number of practicing oncologists available to care for them.
The researchers, who will present their work tomorrow at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, suggest that patient navigator programs could be beneficial to cancer patients as they seek and go through treatment.