ASTRO Survey: Radiation Oncologists Are Seeing a Sharp Drop-off in Patient Volume, Revenue – Managed Healthcare Executive

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May 25, 2020

Despite facing challenges such as limited access to personal protective equipment (PPE) following the COVID-19 outbreak, radiation oncology clinics quickly implemented safety and process enhancements that allowed them to continue caring for cancer patients, according to a national survey from the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO).

However, the vast majority (85%) of the respondents said that their practices were seeing fewer patients, with an average dropoff of about a third from the normal volume.

According to an ASTRO press release, 222 physician leaders responded to the survey, which was conducted during the last two weeks in April.

The majority of practices experienced staff reductions, due mainly to declines in patient volume (49%) and increased family care responsibilities (28%), according to the survey. Relatively few (11%) had reductions due to COVID-19 illness among staff members.

All respondents estimated their clinics would lose revenue, most commonly in the range of 21% to 30% of normal revenue. Freestanding radiation oncology clinics are expected to face higher financial difficulty, with one in five predicted to lose more than half of its annual revenue due to the pandemic.

"The emergency relief funding and flexibilities from the Congress and the Trump Administration provided a lifeline for radiation oncology clinics. It will not be enough to sustain hard-hit practices that will continue to experience decreased treatments, however, as patient volumes likely decline further due to recent drops in cancer screenings, biopsies and surgeries. ASTRO continues to ask Congress and the Administration for more resources and direct financial assistance to support radiation therapy practices and the patients they serve," said ASTRO Board Chair Theodore L. DeWeese, M.D.,FASTO, in the press release. DeWeese is a professor of radiation oncology and molecular radiation at Johns Hopkins University.