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Widespread staff shortages exacerbate pressures facing radiation oncology clinics; ASTRO Advocacy Day calls for action

Press releases may be edited for formatting or style | May 23, 2023 Rad Oncology
ARLINGTON, Va., May 23, 2023 (view online) — More than 9 in 10 radiation oncologists report that their practices face clinical staff shortages, according to a new national survey from the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO). More than half (53%) of the doctors said the shortages are creating treatment delays for patients, and 44% say they are causing increased patient anxiety.

The new ASTRO survey illustrates how 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. today 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:
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Practice operating costs are up 23%, on average, compared to before the pandemic. Most respondents (77%) said professional staffing is the main factor driving increased costs.
93% of the doctors said their practice is facing shortages of key clinical staff – nurses, therapists, physicists, dosimetrists, trial coordinators – and 80% said the shortages are worse than last year.
Staff shortages affect patient care in multiple ways. In addition to causing treatment delays (53%) and increased patient anxiety (44%), they also are forcing many practices to reduce support services such as patient navigation (48%).
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. In a recent poll, 93% of adults diagnosed with cancer said that radiation therapy is safe and effective at treating cancer.

Radiation oncologists will meet with members of Congress today to call for continued support of patients and the larger cancer care community, with an emphasis on three legislative priorities:

1. Support Stability, Access, Value and Equity (S.A.V.E.) in Medicare payment policies.

Radiation oncology delivers high value for patients and for Medicare, but under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, radiation oncology has seen more cuts than any other medical specialty, in excess of 20% over the last decade. A recent study found average Medicare reimbursement decreased for all 16 of the most common radiation therapy courses from 2010 to 2020, with reimbursement for intensity-modulated treatments that significantly improve patient outcomes down nearly 40%. Without intervention, millions of dollars in additional Medicare cuts could come this summer that will further threaten patients’ access to high-quality cancer care.

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