A Better Pathway? Building Consensus and Engaging Providers with Feedback to Improve and Standardize Cancer Care

Clin Breast Cancer. 2019 Apr;19(2):e376-e384. doi: 10.1016/j.clbc.2018.12.010. Epub 2018 Dec 21.


Introduction: Unwanted clinical variation is common across the United States health care system and is particularly vexing in oncology owing to the complexity, morbidity, and high cost of the disease. Efforts to standardize care including guidelines and continuing medical education have had only limited impact. Disease-specific oncology clinical pathways hold the promise of reducing variation but have been hampered by a lack of ownership and accountability among oncology providers.

Materials and methods: We describe the utility of combining a patient simulation-based clinical variation measurement with the in-house development of multidisciplinary breast cancer pathways at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center.

Results: At baseline, we found high variation in care decisions across the multidisciplinary team and within individual specialties in the management of simulated patients. Development and introduction of breast cancer clinical pathways combined with individual and group feedback on pathway adherence led to significant increases in pathway-aligned care decisions and decreases in measured variation. Overall quality scores increased from 47.5% to 61.1% (P < .001), with the largest improvement in diagnostic accuracy (+22.1%). Providers also ordered fewer unnecessary tests, saving an estimated $305 per patient case. Adherence to preferred chemotherapy regimens increased for both medical oncologists (+16%) and other members of the multidisciplinary team (+19%).

Conclusion: Our work shows that a structured process to measure clinical variation and provide personalized feedback to an oncology multidisciplinary team drives adoption of evidence-based pathways, less unneeded spending, and higher quality care for patients.

Keywords: Clinical pathways; Evidence-based medicine; Practice improvement; Standardization of care; Variation reduction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms* / economics
  • Breast Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Consensus
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Critical Pathways / standards*
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Oncology / standards*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Care Team / standards*
  • Patient Care Team / statistics & numerical data
  • Quality of Health Care
  • United States