Clinical Topics & News

VA Center Dramatically Shrinks Wait Times for Bone Marrow Biopsies

Average time from order to procedure fell by two-thirds thanks to new strategy


SAN DIEGO–The Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center in Ohio dramatically reduced wait times for bone marrow biopsies and treatment by ditching the radiology department and opening a weekly clinic devoted to the procedures, a cancer care team reported at the annual meeting of the Association of VA Hematology/Oncology (AVAHO) September 16 to 18, 2022.

The average time from biopsy order to procedure fell by more than two-thirds from 23.1 days to 7.0 days, and the time from order to diagnosis dipped from 27.8 days to 11.6 days. The time from treatment fell from 54.8 days to 20.2 days.

The new strategy aims to avoid sending patients to the radiology department and treat them in a clinic within the cancer center instead. “It’s great to be able to keep as many hematology/oncology–related things such as infusion, scheduling, and procedures within our department. It provides continuity for the veteran, and it’s helpful for them from that aspect,” said nurse practitioner Kyle Stimpert, MSN, RN, ACNP, of VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System.

As the cancer team reported in an abstract presented at the AVAHO meeting, “bone marrow biopsies often need to be performed expeditiously to alleviate patient concerns and quickly determine a diagnosis and treatment plan. However, with increasing subspecialization, there are fewer hematology/oncology providers available to perform this procedure.”

The Cleveland VA tried to address this problem by sending patients to interventional radiology, but it still took weeks for bone marrow biopsies to be performed: From August 4, 2020, to August 12, 2021, when 140 biopsies were performed, the average time from order to procedure was 23.1 days. The time from order to diagnosis was 27.8 days, and from order to treatment was 54.8 days.

The bone marrow biopsies provide insight into diseases such as hematologic malignancies and myelodysplastic syndromes, Stimpert said. The procedures may lead to diagnoses or reveal how treatment is progressing.

In 2021, new leadership sought to shrink the wait times. “We put together a small team and started brainstorming,” said oncology clinical nurse specialist Alecia Smalheer, MSN, APRN, OCN, in an interview. With the help of staff who’d come from other facilities, she said, “we were able to see what was being done in surrounding community hospitals and come up with a model and a checklist.”

The team modified a space to create a new weekly, half-day bone marrow biopsy clinic. They also worked on procedures, documentation, education of patients, and training of staff, Smalheer said.

After implementation in the summer of 2021, the biopsy clinic performed 89 procedures through August 31, 2022. The average time from order to procedure was 7.0 days. The time to diagnosis was 11.6 days, and the time to treatment was 20.2 days. The differences between the pre-implementation and postimplementation periods were statistically significant. (P < .001 for each).

The biopsy clinic now sees about 3 to 4 patients a week. “Just yesterday, I had a vet whose cancer was going down. I was able to just do this bone marrow right there, and it was amazing. He didn’t have to go home [and come back],” Stimpert said. “A lot of patients travel a far distance or on oxygen, or it’s hard for them to get around. Coming to the facility for repeat appointments can just take a lot out of them. So it’s really nice to be able to get it all done in one visit.”

There are multiple benefits to shortening wait times, Smalheer said. “They can start treatment much sooner… but it also alleviates some of the emotional distress of waiting. They still have some waiting to do, but it’s definitely not as long.”

And, Stimpert added, patients are familiar with the infusion center and will see faces they know.

As for cost, the biopsy clinic may save money due to several factors related to how and where the biopsy procedures are performed, Stimpert said.

No disclosures are reported.

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