Open Access Research article

Postal survey of physicians and laboratories: Practices and perceptions of molecular oncology testing

Fiona A Miller1*, Paul Krueger2, Robert J Christensen1, Catherine Ahern1, Ronald F Carter3 and Suzanne Kamel-Reid4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

2 Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

3 Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

4 Department of Lab Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto; Department of Pathology, University Health Network, Toronto, Canada

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:131  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-131

Published: 30 July 2009



Molecular oncology testing (MOT) to detect genomic alterations underlying cancer holds promise for improved cancer care. Yet knowledge limitations regarding the delivery of testing services may constrain the translation of scientific advancements into effective health care.


We conducted a cross-sectional, self-administered, postal survey of active cancer physicians in Ontario, Canada (N = 611) likely to order MOT, and cancer laboratories (N = 99) likely to refer (i.e., referring laboratories) or conduct (i.e., testing laboratories) MOT in 2006, to assess respondents' perceptions of the importance and accessibility of MOT and their preparedness to provide it.


54% of physicians, 63% of testing laboratories and 60% of referring laboratories responded. Most perceived MOT to be important for treatment, diagnosis or prognosis now, and in 5 years (61% – 100%). Yet only 45% of physicians, 59% of testing labs and 53% of referring labs agreed that patients in their region were receiving MOT that is indicated as a standard of care. Physicians and laboratories perceived various barriers to providing MOT, including, among 70% of physicians, a lack of clear guidelines regarding clinical indications, and among laboratories, a lack of funding (73% – 100%). Testing laboratories were confident of their ability to determine whether and which MOT was indicated (77% and 82% respectively), and perceived that key elements of formal and continuing education were helpful (75% – 100%). By contrast, minorities of physicians were confident of their ability to assess whether and which MOT was indicated (46% and 34% respectively), and while majorities considered various continuing educational resources helpful (68% – 75%), only minorities considered key elements of formal education helpful in preparing for MOT (17% – 43%).


Physicians and laboratory professionals were enthusiastic about the value of MOT for cancer care but most did not believe patients were gaining adequate access to clinically necessary testing. Further, our results suggest that many were ill equipped as individual stakeholders, or as a coordinated system of referral and interpretation, to provide MOT. These challenges should inspire educational, training and other interventions to ensure that developments in molecular oncology can result in optimal cancer care.