Hospital parking fees add to cancer patients' financial burden, and may lead to poorer health outcomes, suggests a Canadian study published December 7 in the Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences.
A group of radiation oncology researchers led by Dr. Mustafa Al Balushi from the University of Alberta found strong ties between parking costs and cost of living, as well as access to public transit.
"[Our study] demonstrates that the influence of parking fees on patients with cancer is multilayered with significant direct and indirect effects, [and] can contribute to loss of wage and added financial burden on patients and their caregivers in higher-cost provinces," the team wrote.
Cancer patients and their caregivers face numerous out-of-pocket costs while receiving care, and parking fees can be one of them. Treatment courses can be lengthy, and patients need to travel to care centers multiple times and at various distances. Previous reports suggest that travel expenses and parking contribute to financial burden on patients, though the extent of their respective impact is not well known.
Al Balushi and colleagues sought to explore cancer center parking fees in Western Canada to determine if there were any ties between daily parking costs and city-specific factors via a study that included public parking fee data from 115 cancer centers in Western Canada (the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia). The group then compared this information with median household income statistics, city-specific cost-of-living data, address-specific transit scores for each city, and parking fees for each center.
The researchers found that the median hourly parking fee across all provinces was 2 Canadian dollars ($1.46 U.S.), with a range of zero to 4.25 Canadian dollars ($3.11). Median daily cost of parking was 9.50 Canadian dollars ($6.96), with a range of zero to 13.13 Canadian dollars ($9.62). Median cancer center address transit score was 41 (range, 12 to 50), a score that indicates "minimal" to "some" transit availability.
The investigators reported significant positive correlations between the daily cost of parking and city cost of living (p = 0.029), a statistically significant positive correlation between daily cost of parking and cancer center address transit score (p < 0.001), and a strong negative correlation between the cancer center address transit score and the presence of free parking.
Finally, Al Balushi and colleagues found a nonsignificant negative correlation between cost of living and the presence of free parking (p = 0.88), a result that suggests that cities with more free parking also have less robust public transit systems.
"Conversely, the presence of an extensive public transit system leads to a lower likelihood of free parking being available at cancer centers," they added.
The authors called for policymakers and stakeholders to be more aware of these correlations for cancer patients and suggested that strategies such as subsidized parking for cancer patients or financial burden screening could help alleviate these issues.