Improving Timeliness of Lung Cancer Diagnosis and Staging Investigations Through Implementation of Standardized Triage Pathways

Lung Cancer

Mullin MLL, et al. JCO Oncol Pract 2020.


PURPOSE: Timely care for patients with lung cancer (LC) is associated with improved clinical outcomes. In Southeastern Ontario, Canada, we identified delays in the diagnostic process for patients undergoing evaluation for suspected LC through a rapid assessment clinic. We developed improvement initiatives with an aim of reducing the time from referral to diagnosis.

METHODS: A Standardized Triage Process (STP) was implemented for patients referred with suspected LC, including routine interdisciplinary triage, standardized pathways with preordered staging tests, and a new Small Nodule Clinic. We retrospectively analyzed all patients referred pre-STP (January to April 2018) and prospectively for improvement (May 2018 to March 2019). Process measures included STP compliance and time to completion of staging investigations (positron emission tomography [PET] and computed tomography/magnetic resonance imaging of brain). Data are reported as means; significance was determined by special-cause variation using Statistical Process Control charts; unpaired t tests were compared between groups.

RESULTS: We reviewed 833 referrals (207 baseline and 626 post-STP). STP compliance improved monthly to 99.4%. Post-STP, time from referral to PET decreased (from 38.5 to 15.7 days), time from referral to brain imaging decreased (from 33.4 to 13.1 days), and time from referral to diagnosis decreased (from 38.0 to 22.7 days), all demonstrating special-cause variation. Patients completing preordered staging tests experienced significantly faster care than those without preordered tests, including time to PET (23.0 v 35.9 days), computed tomography/magnetic resonance imaging of brain (16.2 v 29.9 days), and diagnosis (39.9 v 28.1 days), all P < .001.

CONCLUSION: An STP significantly improved timeliness of diagnosis and staging for patients with suspected LC undergoing evaluation in a rapid assessment clinic.