Objective The National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines recommend an interval between surgery and adjuvant radiation therapy of less than 6 weeks, but only 44% of patients meet this metric nationally. We sought to identify key components of an improvement process focused on starting adjuvant radiation therapy within 6 weeks of surgery. Methods This project used an A3 model to improve a defined process measure. We studied a consecutive sample of 56 patients with oral cavity carcinoma who were treated at our institution with upfront surgical resection followed by adjuvant radiation therapy. Twelve proposed interventions tested during the study period focused on 3 key drivers of delays: delayed dental evaluation and teeth extraction, delayed radiation oncology consults, and inadequate patient engagement. The primary outcome measure was the number of days from surgery to the start of radiation therapy. Results Prior to the intervention, 62% of patients received adjuvant radiation within 6 weeks of surgery. Following the intervention, 73% of patients achieved this metric. The percentage of patients with avoidable delays decreased from 24% to 9%. The percentage of patients with unavoidable delays was relatively constant before and after the intervention (15% and 18%, respectively). Discussion Defining disease-specific metrics is critical to improving care in our head and neck cancer patient population. We demonstrate several key components to develop and improve self-defined metrics. Implications for Practice As we transition to a system of value-based care, structured quality improvement projects can have a measurable impact on cancer patient process measures.
Keywords: adjuvant therapy; benchmarks; care coordination; head and neck surgery; process measures; quality improvement.