Survey of Radiation Oncologists Highlights Staffing Shortages

May 23, 2023
In American Society for Radiation Oncology survey, 53 percent said the shortages are creating treatment delays for patients

More than 9 in 10 radiation oncologists who responded to a survey from the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) reported that their practices face clinical staff shortages.

More than half (53 percent) of the doctors said the shortages are creating treatment delays for patients, and 44 percent say they are causing increased patient anxiety.

ASTRO is using the survey to argue that the staffing issues exacerbate the pressures that radiation oncology clinics face “due to ongoing and excessive cuts to Medicare reimbursements, burdensome prior authorization requirements, and rising costs and inflation. Radiation oncologists from across the country are in Washington, D.C., on May 23 to advocate for policies to help alleviate stresses on cancer clinics and increase access and equity in cancer care, as part of ASTRO’s Advocacy Day.”

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • Practice operating costs are up 23 percent, on average, compared to before the pandemic. Most respondents (77 percent) said professional staffing is the main factor driving increased costs.
  • 93 percent of the doctors said their practice is facing shortages of key clinical staff – nurses, therapists, physicists, dosimetrists, trial coordinators – and 80 percent said the shortages are worse than last year.
  • Staff shortages affect patient care in multiple ways. In addition to causing treatment delays (53 percent) and increased patient anxiety (44 percent), they also are forcing many practices to reduce support services such as patient navigation (48 percent).

One of the issues ASTRO is advocating about involves prior authorization. Nine in 10 radiation oncology practice leaders say their patients are forced to wait for their radiation therapy treatment due to provider roadblocks inherent to the prior authorization process, and a majority say the average delay lasts one week or even longer. “Prior authorization for proven treatments ultimately causes more harm than good by squandering valuable time and resources, which negatively impacts patient outcomes,” said Geraldine M. Jacobson, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., Chair of the ASTRO Board of Directors, in a statement.

ASTRO recently applauded policy changes to increase transparency in prior authorization for Medicare Advantage, and radiation oncologists are now asking Congress to hold insurers accountable for following these new requirements.