Oncologists under pressure to solicit patients for donations

Even as oncologists begin to decry the high cost of cancer care, they are under pressure by their hospitals to identify wealthier patients and solicit them for donations, according to the New York Times.

Some 200 oncologists nationwide have received some form of training to solicit contributions from patients, according to the article, which cites a new survey published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology. Even among those doctors who had not received formal training, nearly three-quarters had been exposed to their hospital's fundraising/development department.

Arthur L. Caplan, Ph.D., the well-known medical ethicist with NYU-Langone Medical Center, told the New York Times the practice concerned him for a variety of reasons. "Patients may be emotionally vulnerable; doctors have very close ties to their patients, which can strain asking on both sides; and the fact that incentives to ask sometimes skew toward the doctor's own program rather than the most needy areas of the hospital," he said.

But Joseph A. Carrese, M.D., a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins, did not think the practice was going to go away anytime soon. Such donations are  "an important source of resources when money is tight," he told the newspaper.

The soliciation practice differs from hospital to hospital. The Harvard Dana-Farber Cancer Institute leaves "the doctor out of the equation," according to the article. At the University of North Carolina's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, oncologists are asked to notify a member of the development department if a patient seems willing to make a donaton.

The practice of solicting cancer patients for donations comes as those who suffer from the disease are more and more likely to be financially squeezed from the treatments. Some patients who have insurance are left with bills totaling $100,000 or more. That has led to some oncologists to begin to publicly question the high costs of cancer drugs and other treatments. 

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article
- check out the survey