Overall survival based on oncologist density in the United States: A retrospective cohort study

Academic Article


  • Medically underserved areas (MUA) or health professional shortage areas (HPSA) designations are based on primary care health services availability. These designations are used in recruiting international medical graduates (IMGs) trained in primary care or subspecialty (e.g., oncology) to areas of need. Whether the MUA/HPSA designation correlates with Oncologist Density (OD) and supports IMG oncologists recruitment to areas of need is unknown. We evaluated the concordance of OD with the designation of MUAs/HPSAs and evaluated the impact of OD and MUA/HPSA status on overall survival. We conducted a retrospective cohort study of patients diagnosed with hematological malignancies or metastatic solid tumors in 2011 from the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database. SEER was linked to the American Medical Association Masterfile to calculate OD, defined as the number of oncologists per 100,000 population at the county level. We calculated the proportion of counties with MUA or HPSA designation for each OD category. Overall survival was estimated using the Kaplan-Meier method and compared between the OD category using a log-rank test. We identified 68,699 adult patients with hematologic malignancies or metastatic solid cancers in 609 counties. The proportion of MUA/HPSA designation was similar across counties categorized by OD (93.2%, 95.4%, 90.3%, and 91.7% in counties with 2.9, 2.9-6.5, 6.5-8.4 and 8.4 oncologists per 100K population, p = 0.7). Patients median survival in counties with the lowest OD was significantly lower compared to counties with the highest OD (8 vs. 11 months, p0.0001). The difference remained statistically significant in multivariate and subgroup analysis. MUA/HPSA status was not associated with survival (HR 1.03, 95%CI 0.97-1.09, p = 0.3). MUA/HPSA designation based on primary care services is not concordant with OD. Patients in counties with lower OD correlated with inferior survival. Federal programs designed to recruit physicians in highneed areas should consider the availability of health care services beyond primary care.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • PLoS One  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Malleshappa SKS; Giri S; Patel S; Mehta T; Appleman L; Huntington SF; Passero V; Parikh RA; Mehta KD
  • Volume

  • 16
  • Issue

  • 5 May 2021