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Mar 25, 2019

Dr. Pennell talks with Dr. Genevieve Digby about the importance of timely care for cancer patients, and more specifically, lung cancer patients.


Hello, and welcome to the ASCO Journal of Oncology Practice Podcast. This is Dr. Nate Pennell, medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic and consultant editor for the JOP. On this month's podcast, we're going to be talking about a new study from the JOP Quality and Action series, titled Improving Timeliness of Oncology Assessment and Cancer Treatment Through Implementation of a Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Clinic, published online in the JOP, January, 2019.
Joining me today on this podcast is the author, Dr. Genevieve Digby, assistant professor in the division of respirology at Queen's University School of Medicine, where she's also the clinical lead for the lung diagnostic assessment program. She has an active interest in quality improvement projects, which is what led to this paper that we're going to be discussing today. Dr. Digby, thank you for joining me.
Thank you so much for the invitation.
Obviously, everyone likes to be seen as quickly as possible when they're trying to get into the doctor, but can you give us just a little bit of background into what led you to do this particular quality project? Why is the timeliness of care more important for cancer patients or, specifically, lung cancer patients?
So great questions, Nate. Timely care is very important for patients, as you pointed out. In fact, the Institute of Medicine has timeliness as one of the six dimensions of quality. And for lung cancer patients this is particularly important, as we know that there's evidence to show that patients who have delays in their diagnosis or delays in treatment, that this is associated with progression of disease, and there's evidence to show that more advanced disease is associated with worse outcomes. And as we know from the lung cancer screening trials, earlier detection of disease is associated with better outcomes.
Not only is timeliness of care important for patients from the point of view of getting their treatment underway, but it also is important in terms of the anxiety and distress that patients have. So we know that the longer delays are associated with more distress, and lung cancer patients to begin with are some of the patients who have the highest levels of anxiety and distress amongst oncology patients. So for us, the study arose because of an identification locally that there were delays in our care processes in regards to transitioning patients from the diagnostic phase of the lung cancer pathway to the treatment phase and a desire to improve those care processes.
I think that that really resonates with me. I know at my institution we've been paying attention to the time to initiate treatment for a while, and it's not like going to see the dermatologist. When you're diagnosed with cancer, you really have a lot of anxiety, and you want to get in to get treatment as quickly as possible. And of course, as you've mentioned, especially for early stage lung cancer, there's pretty good data suggesting that the longer someone waits to make a diagnosis, the more likely they are to have their potentially earlier stage cancer turn into a later stage cancer with worse outcomes. So I applaud you for addressing this.
And in your particular project, you focused on the establishment of a multidisciplinary clinic. And this is something where I think a lot of the literature out there on looking at processes and time to treatment has focused on that. So is there data suggesting that multidisciplinary clinics specifically are a good intervention for improving timeliness of care?
So that's a good question. And the literature varies in terms of its robustness based on the type of cancer that we look at. So my group published a systematic review looking at multidisciplinary clinic models in lung cancer specifically. And we were surprised, actually, by the relative paucity of data in terms of what the optimal catalytic characteristics are, even just in terms of the number of studies that's actually evaluated a multidisciplinary clinic, per se.
In other cancer types, there is evidence that multidisciplinary clinics lead to better collaboration between specialists. There is some evidence, even in lung cancer, that perhaps there's better compliance with staging guidelines and guideline-based care when care is delivered in a multidisciplinary clinic. And there's also some evidence, though limited again, especially for lung cancer, surrounding the patient experience and patient satisfaction with their care when it's delivered in a multidisciplinary clinic model.
Yeah. Honestly, I don't think I've ever heard anyone argue that there's a downside to a multidisciplinary clinic. But I do appreciate studying measurable metrics that may demonstrate benefits because, of course, you have to get support for these sorts of things. So why don't you take me through your project's design, and what were the goals that you tried to achieve?
So this is a quality improvement study. We started by identifying what our overall goals and outcome measures were and how we would go about achieving those goals. For us, the focus was to improve our transitions from the point of care of receiving a diagnosis of lung cancer through to starting treatment with an oncologist. So this particular setup was due to the fact that in our center we have a separate thoracic surgery program where patients with suspected early stage disease directly go to a thoracic surgery program and those with more advanced disease or suspected non-operable disease are initially managed by a respirologist, and then are seen through with the appropriate thoracic oncology specialist subsequently.
So for us, we looked at our data, and we actually identified that that time from transition, where a patient receives a diagnosis of lung cancer, to when they're first assessed by an oncologist was upwards of about two weeks. The time then to go on and start their first treatment for cancer was in the range of 40 to 45 days. And we identified that there was room to improve and set a target of reducing both of these individual time frames by about 10 days.
We hypothesized that if it could improve timeliness to seeing an oncologist from about 14 days to closer to 4 days-- 3 to 4 days-- that we would similarly lead to maybe about a 10-day improvement in time to treatment on the other end. So our improvement plan was to launch this multidisciplinary clinic. And we used a quality improvement called plan, do, study, act cycles, or PDSA cycles, to help facilitate that and fine-tune our multidisciplinary clinic along the way to make it even more efficient.
That sounds great. It sounds like a very worthy project. So what did you find?
We found that by implementing a multidisciplinary clinic, even within a very short time of implementing it, that we were able to significantly reduce the time from a patient's lung cancer diagnosis to when they were first assessed by an oncologist. In fact, just with the implementation of the clinic, we led to about a 10-day improvement. We fine-tuned our processes to help create sustainability of the teams. Initially, there was still some variability. And we were able to maintain about a 10-day improvement overall over time.
What we found though, and what was really interesting, was that as we went about our change processes, we had ongoing improvement in time to treatment, so that time from lung cancer diagnosis to time to first treatment. With our initial clinic implementation, we had about a 10-day improvement in time to treatment as well. But as we noticed, as we fine-tuned our processes, that improvement actually increased such that we overall reduced time to treatment from about 40 days at baseline to 15 to 20 days by the end of our quality improvement initiative.
And that is incredible. I think, to me, was the most impressive thing is not so much that you, by moving up your evaluation by 10 days, you improved time to treat by 10 days, which makes perfect sense, but that somehow implementing this entire project, you greatly exceeded your expected improvement in time to treat. And so, did you look at what specific interventions might have led to that even better improvement than you expected?
So that's a great question. And as you said, what surprised us was the extent to which timeliness, in terms of receiving first treatment improved, even beyond just time to seeing an oncologist. And when we considered the data, some of the things that came out were likely the increase in collaboration that we were seeing amongst specialists, particularly medical and radiation oncologists in terms of being able to decide on a treatment plan a bit sooner and get that plan up and running.
In fact, when we looked at the data, the patients that had the greatest improvement in time to treatment were those with stage 2 and 3 lung cancer, and also including patients with stage 4 lung cancer. And those are often-- especially stage 2 and 3-- where patients are most likely to need a concurrent chemoradiation, where the treatment plans are often decided together amongst the radiation oncologist and the medical oncologist. And so having that ability to discuss the treatment plans and come up with a clear plan sooner is what we hypothesized is leading to be faster kind of treatment.
To evaluate this further, we actually also have recently completed a qualitative study, where we interviewed physicians, and including patients and caregivers, about the impact of a multidisciplinary clinic. And while I don't want to give away all the results yet before it's published, one of the themes that comes up certainly for the physicians and particularly oncologists is just the overall ability to collaborate and have real-time discussions with each other and with the patients about what their treatment plans would be, leading to a faster implementation of that plan.
Well there you go, listeners. You're getting a sneak peek of a future study going to be coming out of this group. But I think that makes perfect sense. So again, as a group that has, at least internally, been focusing on improving our time to getting patients to treatment, I think just having an emphasis on studying how long it takes to treat and that everyone understanding that it's a priority to try to make that as short as possible seems to just lead to improvements because everyone's aware that it's an important aspect of treatment. And things tend to show improvements without any real specific interventions taking place.
And then, of course, the multidisciplinary clinic. It makes perfect sense that multidisciplinary care would be better coordinated. So I think that that's a really nice validation of what you were trying to do. So how would other centers that maybe are starting to look at this, how would they take what you've done and apply it to their own programs?
So that's a great question. I think there's a few things to consider. Firstly, quality improvement processes can be instituted in any organization. And part of quality improvement is identifying what the main barriers are to achieving the timeliness of care goals that an individual center has and just implementing the PDSA cycles at their own institution to help achieve those targets because the barriers can be different between different organizations. So where possible, I think eliminating the silos that exist in our care models of the traditional model of seeing one person at a time and really trying to get people to work together, that can be challenging administratively. But once those barriers are overcome, it's actually more convenient for people to really work collaboratively to improve patient care as a whole.
That's great. And this really fits in nicely with both the US National Cancer Institute and ASCO, in particular, have really paid a lot of attention in recent years to teamwork and building team science to help improve outcomes. And I think that your study is a wonderful example of how that can lead to direct and measurable improvements in care.
Well, thank you. We certainly think that we've led to some improvement locally and hope that other centers can learn from what we've learned to help drive change.
Dr. Digby, thank you so much for talking with me today about your study. And I really want to thank you for sharing the results of your project because I think high quality quality improvement projects that are going on all over the world, really, but oftentimes don't get shared outside of the individual team or institution where they're doing them. And this is going to allow, hopefully, a lot of people to see how investments in teamwork and trying to improve on these metrics can lead to really important results for our patients.
I completely agree. It's important to share the knowledge that's learned, particularly with quality improvement. We're all working towards common goals for delivering better patient care, and it's great to be able to share those learned experiences with others.
And I also want to thank our listeners out there who joined us for this podcast. The full text of the paper was published online at on January 7, 2019. This is Dr. Nate Pennell for the Journal of Oncology Practice signing off.