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Report finds disparities in cancer care services in hospitals serving high numbers of Black and Hispanic patients

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Article

Hospitals often lack access to advanced equipment.

Black and Hispanic patients face disparities in cancer care: ©Romaset: stock.adobe.com

Black and Hispanic patients face disparities in cancer care: ©Romaset: stock.adobe.com

A study led by investigators at the UCLA Health Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center reveals stark disparities in the availability of advanced medical equipment and critical services for cancer care across hospitals that serve high numbers of Black and Hispanic patients. Published in JAMA Oncology, the findings show the need for equal access to quality cancer care across diverse health care facilities.

The study, led by Gracie Himmelstein, M.D., a resident physician at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, analyzed patient data from 4,373 hospitals in the U.S. that accept Medicare and Medicaid. The researchers obtained hospital-reported data from the 2020 American Hospital Association Survey, focusing on 432 hospitals serving high numbers of Black patients and an additional 432 serving a large population of Hispanic patients, with 62 of these also catering to a high number of Black patients.

The investigation assessed the availability of 34 cancer-related services, including core services such as hospice care, pain management, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, robotic surgery, diagnostic radiology, patient support groups, and tobacco-cessation programs.

The results underscored significant disparities in the availability of core services at hospitals serving high numbers of Black, Hispanic, and other racial and ethnic minority patients. Notably, 13 significant disparities emerged, encompassing crucial services such as access to PET/CT scanners, palliative care, esophageal cancer ablation services, various radiotherapy techniques, diagnostic radiology services, treatments like chemotherapy and robotic surgery, tobacco treatment programs, support groups, and acute inpatient psychiatric consultations.

Patricia Ganz, M.D., senior study author and professor of medicine at the Geffen School of Medicine, highlighted the importance of these services in top-quality cancer treatment. Access to PET/CT machines, for instance, plays a pivotal role in precise cancer diagnosis and monitoring, while palliative care services improve overall quality of life for patients. The capability to perform ablations for esophageal cancer can significantly impact treatment outcomes and survival rates.

The study's revelations point to the uneven distribution of crucial resources in different health care settings, altering access to timely and appropriate screening, treatment planning, cancer care delivery, and outcomes. Himmelstein emphasized the surprising lack of tobacco treatment programs available for people of color, considering their higher likelihood of having tobacco-related cancers.

The researchers underscored the need for further investigation into the interplay between these disparities and factors such as geographic, linguistic, and cost barriers, as well as cultural beliefs and discrimination. The findings highlight the critical importance of addressing these disparities to ensure equitable access to quality cancer care for all patients, regardless of their racial or ethnic background.

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