How to Address Barriers to Accessing Gynecologic Oncology Specialists

Anna Jo Bodurtha Smith, MD, MPH, MSc, discusses how oncologists and health systems can overcome barriers to access to the best available care for patients with gynecologic cancers.

Anna Jo Bodurtha Smith, MD, MPH, MSc, an obstetrics and gynecology oncology fellow at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, discusses how oncologists and health systems can overcome barriers to access to the best available care for patients with gynecologic cancers.

Smith’s research into disparities in cancer care found that many patients with gynecologic cancers do not visit a specialized gynecologic oncologist due to reasons such as lack of in-network physicians, long travel distances, or high copays. She recommends that clinicians ask their patients about any issues that would keep them from continuing to receive recommended care so they can help address these issues with the patients and their insurance companies.

In addition, health systems should do more to encourage patients to see a gynecologic oncologist and push for insurance companies to support these visits considering that it is the standard of care.

Smith says that policymakers should advocate for nationwide rules in which cancer care therapies should be provided by all insurance companies at an affordable cost, and she believes that policymakers are currently working toward this goal.

TRANSCRIPTION:

0:08 | We traditionally think about insurance alone being the biggest thing about access to care. But we know that there are specific barriers to care; there’s issues with affordability, availability, and accessibility of care for insured patients. A couple of takeaways for clinicians: ask patients about what their barriers are once they get in the door. Are they going to struggle seeing you because it's far away? Are they going to struggle with the copay? Are there ways you can work with them or their insurances to make their care go the best possible without breaking the bank or providing time-prohibitive care with whatever limitations they have? When I see my patients, I ask them about this.

0:54 | For health systems also thinking about this, are there ways you can work with insurers to make sure that all of their patients are getting incentivized to see a gynecologic oncologist and to work with insurers to encourage them to help their patients get the standard of care? And then for policymakers, [do] we have good national guidelines about what cancer treatments should be? Making sure that every patient regardless of where they live, regardless of what insurance, has access to those cancer therapies at an affordable cost to them, is so important. I've been really excited to see on both sides of the political spectrum, a lot of people committed to making cancer care affordable for all patients.