Radiation Oncologists Report Troubling Staff Shortages

Radiation oncology clinics have been hit hard by clinical staff shortages, a recent national survey shows.

The survey, conducted by the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), found that more than 90% of radiation oncologists are facing staff shortages.

The reported staff shortages appear to be affecting patient care. Over half (53%) of survey respondents reported treatment delays stemming from staff shortages, 44% said the shortages are causing heightened anxiety among patients, and nearly half said they had to cut support services, such as patient navigation.

Another key finding from the survey highlights concerns about practice operating costs, which increased 23% on average compared with prepandemic costs.

In late May, radiation oncologists met with members of Congress in Washington, DC to discuss policies that can help alleviate the stresses cancer clinics are facing while also increasing access and equity in cancer care. The radiation oncologists emphasized three legislative priorities.

The first is to improve Medicare payment policies by developing a new payment system for radiation oncology that will “advance equity, improve quality and reduce costs, as well as protect access to radiation therapy.” The other two priorities focus on increasing federal investment in cancer research and fixing prior authorization to ensure that patients and radiation oncologists, not insurance companies, make care decisions.

“More than one million people receive radiation therapy each year to treat cancer and other diseases, yet ongoing cuts, prior authorization and rising costs threaten to undermine equitable access to this life-saving treatment,” according to the ASTRO press release. “The new ASTRO survey illustrates how staffing issues exacerbate the pressures that radiation oncology clinics face.”

Sharon Worcester, MA, is an award-winning medical journalist based in Birmingham, Alabama, writing for Medscape, MDedge and other affiliate sites. She currently covers oncology, but she has also written on a variety of other medical specialties and healthcare topics. She can be reached at  [email protected]  or on Twitter:  @SW_MedReporter

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