Severe Radiation Oncologist Shortage Forecast

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , October 20, 2010

"Shortages mean double trouble," Smith said. "Since research has shown that a delay between diagnosis and the start of radiation therapy can reduce its effectiveness, oncologists and radiologists must collaborate even more so the quality of care doesn't break down at multiple points."

The demand for radiation therapy was estimated by multiplying the current use of the procedure by projections of population growth as well as figures on current radiation therapy use.

The supply of these specialists was calculated by looking at the current number of board certified radiation oncologists and active residents who would be certified by 2014, and estimating approximate retirement ages and availability for full time work.

Smith urged more research to see if changes in practice styles can produce more efficiencies without compromising quality of care. 

He suggests three strategies that may extend the supply of radiation oncologists:

1. The use of physician's assistants and advanced practice registered nurses can assist physicians to increase the number of patients who can be treated at the same time.

2. Shorter radiation treatment courses may be more efficient and just as effective as longer courses of treatment.

3. Increasing the size of residency programs to train more radiation oncologists.

Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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