Self-referral can increase travel for radiation therapy

August 22, 2012

Men with prostate cancer in Texas may be driving more than three times farther than needed to obtain radiation oncology treatments when treated at a urology-owned radiation oncology practice versus other facilities, according to a recent study.

Men with prostate cancer in Texas may be driving more than three times farther than needed to obtain radiation oncology treatments when treated at a urology-owned radiation oncology practice versus other facilities, according to a recent study.

The study, which was published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology · Biology · Physics (2012; 84:15-19), reviewed 229 urology practices in Texas and found that 5% (12 centers) offered radiation oncology services, and 53% of the state’s population lives within 10 miles of these centers. The 12 urology-owned practices were found to have multiple urologic clinics, but each practice has only one radiation oncology treatment center focused on prostate cancer treatment. This often resulted in extended travel times because radiation therapy is not available at the same physical location as the urologic clinic where the patient was initially diagnosed, researchers reported.

The mean patient travel distance was found to be 19.7 miles (26.11 minutes) to the urology-owned center versus 5.88 miles (9.15 minutes) to the nearest radiation oncology center.

"Integrated urology-radiation oncology practices are increasingly common in Texas and have the potential to impact patient care. For example, our study illustrates that patients diagnosed by a urologist whose practice owns a radiation treatment facility will, on average, drive three times farther to reach the radiation treatment facility owned by their urologist than they would have to drive to reach the nearest independent radiation treatment facility," said senior author Benjamin D. Smith, MD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Dr. Smith and colleagues affirm that their findings are limited to their research area of the state of Texas and recommend additional analysis of how urology-owned self-referral practices affect patient care, quality of treatment and patient satisfaction and outcomes, not just patient travel time.

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