CHICAGO – In 2014, the average time from diagnosis to treatment initiation for new cancer patients at the Cleveland Clinic was 29-41 days, depending on whether the patient was diagnosed internally or externally. That figure was not acceptable, said Brian J. Bolwell, MD, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute.
Since then, the time-to-treat metric has improved dramatically, dropping 33%. Today, time to treat for new cancer patients is 25-31 days, depending on the site of diagnosis.
To get there, leaders at the cancer center examined the causes of delay within each of their disease programs. The analysis revealed that less than 20% of the time it was patient preferences that slowed down the initiation of treatment, but that more than 80% of the time the delay was on the part of their institution.
Dr. Bolwell said this led them to start tracking every newly diagnosed patient who came through the cancer center to ensure they didn’t fall through the cracks, and that they were treated as rapidly as possible.
But figuring out how to get patients to treatment quicker depended on the type of cancer they had, since each type of cancer had different challenges and different points of entry to the health care system.
“So for breast cancer, it turns out a lot of the challenges might be coordination of surgery because sometimes a general surgeon has to work with a reconstructive-plastic surgeon and coordinating the surgical schedules might drastically lengthen time to treat,” he said during an interview at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
They helped address that problem by scheduling breast cancer patients for surgery by the next available operating room slot, rather than doing the scheduling by surgeon.
There are additional barriers to achieving a rapid time to treat standard, including prior authorization, Dr. Bolwell said. But they are continuing to chip away at the metric, working within each cancer type to lower the obstacles to treatment. “I don’t think we’ll ever be satisfied with where we are,” Dr. Bolwell said.
Dr. Bolwell reported having no relevant financial disclosures.