FRIDAY, June 3 (HealthDay News) -- For newly diagnosed cancer
patients, appointments with an oncologist are hard to come by --
even among those with private health insurance, according to U.S.
The study found that in two-thirds of cases, research assistants
posing as new cancer patients were unable to obtain an appointment
with an oncologist for an initial exam.
The findings, from a team at the Perelman School of Medicine at
the University of Pennsylvania, are slated for presentation on
Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical
Oncology in Chicago.
"Although health care reform is likely to expand health
insurance coverage to more Americans, our research shows that even
with insurance, patients face barriers when they try to access
cancer care," the study's lead author, Dr. Keerthi Gogineni,
instructor in the division of Hematology-Oncology at Penn's
Abramson Cancer Center, said in a university news release.
"Given the typical pre-appointment expectations for new patients
-- which typically involve referral requirements, paperwork and
routing of medical records and test results -- both insured and
uninsured patients must contend with many challenges that delay
care with a specialty cancer provider," Gogineni added.
In conducting the study, the research assistants pretended to be
cancer patients either with or without insurance and attempted to
call 160 hospitals to schedule initial oncology visits. Although
the callers reached someone who schedules appointments 79 percent
of the time, only 29 percent of the callers were actually given
Among the reasons why the callers were denied oncology
appointments were demand for medical records (39 percent),
inability to reach the appropriate schedulers (24 percent), and
referral requirements (18 percent).
The study authors suggested that, as the number of people living
with cancer is on the rise, patients would benefit from more
guidance during the initial phase of their care.
"Patients who are newly diagnosed with cancer may be confused or
frightened," study co-author Dr. Katrina Armstrong, chief of the
division of General Internal Medicine and associate director of
Outcomes and Delivery in the Abramson Cancer Center, said in the
"Asking them to find their way through the complex process of
obtaining imaging studies and other tests or collecting records
from another doctor prior to scheduling an appointment may pose an
undue burden, and cancer centers should be prepared to provide help
with those preliminary steps," Armstrong urged.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data
and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in
a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Cancer Society provides insight on what cancer
patients can expect during their