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How Likely Are Doctors to Refer Patients for Cancer Screenings?

Medical doctors are expected to treat everyone equally, but a recent study suggests they might have something of an unintended bias: According to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, a doctor is more likely to recommend a patient for a cancer screening if that patient has a morning appointment, rather than one in the afternoon. The researchers examined data from 50,000 clinic patients and found that those who arrived at 8 a.m. had a 64 percent chance of being sent for a breast cancer screening, while those who came at 5 p.m. had a 48 percent chance of receiving such a recommendation. Colorectal cancer screenings were ordered for 37 percent of the morning patients, but only 23 percent of the afternoon visitors.

The researchers speculated on two possible reasons for the difference: Doctors grow tired by the end of the day, so are less likely to take the time to order screenings, and they also become more rushed as the day goes on, and thus pressed for time. Interestingly, the time of day also seemed to influence the percentage of patients who actually went through with the screenings: 33 percent of morning patients got the breast cancer screening and 28 percent went to the colorectal screening, compared to only 18 percent of afternoon patients in both cases.

Combating cancer:

  • Tobacco use is linked to 22 percent of the world's cancer deaths.
  • Skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, affecting approximately two million people per year.
  • In the United States alone, there are more than 16 million cancer survivors alive today.

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