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Doximity Uses Data to Unearth Looming Oncologist Shortage


The finding underscores a problem facing cancer care — and the power of a strong database.

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Oncologist shortages and rising breast cancer rates could challenge many U.S. communities, according to Doximity.

The 50 biggest U.S. metropolitan areas could soon face oncologist shortages — just as breast cancer diagnoses are on the rise, according to a new analysis by Doximity.

The findings alone are important, as they illustrate a problem that could affect many patients and communities in the U.S. But how researchers reached these results — using Doximity’s sprawling data set, which it built through its 1-million-plus-member healthcare social network — also highlights a powerful new force in analyzing the healthcare industry.

>> READ: Most Breast Cancer Studies Don’t Address Race or Socioeconomic Factors

Amit Phull, M.D., Doximity’s vice president of strategy and insights, said the study shined a light on an issue that has been explored but not in this focused, community-level way. (The American Society of Clinical Oncology has estimated that the U.S. would be short 2,200 oncologists by 2025.)

“Our study is the first of its kind to examine how this trend could play out in major cities across the country and the various demographic factors contributing to the problem,” Phull noted in a statement.

Doximity researchers found that Miami, Florida; Virgini Beach, Virginia; and Tampa, Florida were the top three metro areas most likely to suffer oncologist shortages in the near future. Washington D.C. and cities in Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana, North Carolina and Rhode Island rounded out the top 10 list.

Retirement appears to be the big issue at play. Half of the more-than-20,000 oncologists surveyed by Doximity were older than 65. The Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit, Tuscon and New Orleans metro areas are especially vulnerable in this regard. On the other hand, the Nashville, Charlotte, Cleveland, Phoenix and Houston areas have the lowest percentage of oncologists who are 65 or older, according to the study.

Compounding this problem is a roughly two-fold variation in breast cancer rates, according to Doximity. Metro areas in New York state, Virginia, Connecticut and Massachusetts are dealing with the highest rates, while portions of Nevada, Arizona, California and Texas are seeing lower numbers of women with breast cancer.

“By taking a closer look at risks to the workforce of cancer specialists at both a national and local level, we’re able to get a clearer view into how this trend will impact local communities across the country,” said Christopher Whaley, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health.

Doximity came to these findings by interviewing tens of thousands of oncologists and probing data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and board certification bodies. Researchers then mapped responses across metropolitan statistical areas, selecting the top 50 based on 2010 Census data regarding the number of women who are older than 40 years.

“Doximity’s unique data set has helped us garner a better understanding of a serious threat to our healthcare system,” Whaley added.

This isn’t the first time that Doximity has flexed its research muscle. In the past, the company used its data set to examine language disparities among physicians and their patient communities.

And with each research report, Doximity stands to expand and improve its database of healthcare professionals. Why? To access the full report, they must sign up for the network.

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