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Some Metro Areas Facing Shortages of Oncologists in Coming Years, Report Says

Allison Inserro
A medical social network for physicians said it has compiled data that pinpoint the top 50 metropolitan areas where shortages of oncologists are expected to occur in the coming years. Doximity said the findings in its 2018 National Oncologists Workforce report are drawn from retirement trends, the percentage of state-trained specialists, and the prevalence of breast cancer.
A medical social network for physicians said Tuesday it has compiled data that pinpoint the top 50 metropolitan areas where shortages of oncologists are expected to occur in the coming years. Doximity said the findings in its 2018 National Oncologists Workforce report are drawn from retirement trends as well as the percentage of state-trained specialists.

In addition, it used the prevalence of breast cancer on a city-by-city basis to focus on how a shortage of oncologists may affect patients and patient care. The company said it highlighted breast cancer as the example, both because instances of breast cancer are rising and also because women are living longer with breast cancer and thus require care for a longer period of time.

The report is a combination of Doximity’s data on physicians and outside data, such as from the CDC, said Jim Rivas, who leads data studies and corporate communications at Doximity.  

In an interview with The American Journal of Managed Care®, Rivas and others affiliated with the company said that the measure of where the shortages are likely to appear comes from a combination of the retirement trends, the percentage of oncologists receiving graduate medical education support from the state where they are still practicing, and breast cancer rates.

Based on those 3 factors, the top 10 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) most likely to have a shortage of oncologists are:
  1. Miami, Florida
  2. Virginia Beach, Virginia
  3. Tampa, Florida
  4. Washington, DC
  5. North Port, Florida
  6. Tucson, Arizona
  7. Las Vegas, Nevada
  8. New Orleans, Louisiana
  9. Raleigh, North Carolina
  10. Providence, Rhode Island
The study found that in half of the MSAs surveyed, over 20% of practicing oncologists are aged 65 years or older. The aging workforce is a factor in the estimated shortage of 2200 oncologists by 2025, as projected by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). ASCO said that there would be a 40% growth in demand for oncology services during that same timeframe.

Doximity looked at where oncologists received their training and also checked to see if they were still in the same location, said Christopher Whaley, PhD, lead author of the report and adjunct assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health.

States with a low rate of retaining doctors may in fact be training them for somewhere else, said Whaley, rather than keeping them in their own markets. Retaining physicians is key for areas that may be facing a shortage, he said.

“It’s important that you train oncologists but also that they stay in practice there,” he said.

Policy recommendations were not part of the report, but speaking broadly, Whaley said that there is an “allocation problem” of oncologists. In areas where there could be expected shortages, policy makers could think about attracting younger oncologists, and in areas where oncologists are trained but then leave, hospitals and clinics could think about their retention practices, he said.

Amit Phull, MD, is Doximity’s vice president of strategy and insights and still works part-time as an emergency medicine physician.

“The importance of this kind of research output is to call to attention to trends that could ultimately downstream impact patient care,” he said.

Doximity is a free social network with data on more than 1 million healthcare professionals, and it allows to providers “to take charge of their professional identity online,” said Phull. He said that by using Doximity, “physicians can exchange clinical information, seek out and send referrals.” It is also a workflow tool, with career and job information, as well as a newsfeed with sponsored content.

“Part of the value that we provide to practicing clinicians is that we are able to aggregate a lot of data that is already publicly available on individuals into their cohesive profile and to take ownership of their presence online,” said Phull. Physicians can then keep the profile up to date with additional information about their background and credentials, including their research and presentations.

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