Using a “mystery shopper approach,” researchers at Duke University and Duke Cancer Institute found that despite the availability of palliative and supportive care at major cancer centers, patients may encounter barriers to accessing these services.1

The findings, which will be presented at the 2016 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium in San Francisco, California, showed that 10% of inquiries into the availability of palliative care services were met with an answer other than “yes,” even though such services were available.

Answers other than “yes” by cancer center staff “included responses such as: palliative care was for end-of-life patients only; no physicians specialized in symptom management; a medical record review would be needed first.”

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Twelve staff members said that they were unsure if palliative care was available or unfamiliar with the term, and only 37% of patients who called the cancer center were given correct information about the availability of all 7 supportive care services.

Callers who received a “yes” response were typically referred to patient navigation and genetic assessment services.

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“As oncologists, we like to believe that when we refer patients to our institution’s helpline, that they will get connected to the services they need, but that doesn’t always happen,” said co-investigator Arif Kamal, MD, an oncologist at Duke Cancer Institute, in a press release. “It’s important for oncologists to be aware of these barriers and to work to eliminate them.                                                 


  1. “Mystery shopper” study finds barriers to accessing palliative care services at major cancer centers [press release]. Alexandria, VA: American Society of Clinical Oncology; September 6, 2016.