Rationale: Timeliness is one of six important dimensions of health care quality recognized by the Institute of Medicine. Objectives: To evaluate timeliness of lung cancer care and identify institutional characteristics associated with timely care within the VA Health Care System.
Methods: We used data from a VA nation-wide retrospective chart review and an independent audit of VA cancer programs to examine the association between time to first treatment and potentially explanatory institutional characteristics (e.g. volume of lung cancer patients) for 2,372 veterans diagnosed with lung cancer between 1/1/02 and 9/1/05 at 127 VA medical centers. We developed linear mixed effects models to control for clustering of patients within hospitals and stratified analyses by stage.
Measurements and Main Results: Median time to treatment varied widely between (23 to 182 days) and within facilities. Median time to treatment was 90 days in stage I or II patients and 52 days in those with more advanced disease (p<0.0001). Factors associated with shorter times to treatment included a non-academic setting and the existence of a specialized diagnostic clinic (in patients with limited stage disease), performing a patient flow analysis (in patients with advanced disease), and leadership beliefs about providing timely care (in both groups). However, institutional characteristics explained <1% of the observed variation in treatment times. Conclusions: Time to lung cancer treatment in U.S. veterans is highly variable. The numerous institutional characteristics we examined explained relatively little of this variability, suggesting that patient, clinician, and/or unmeasured institutional characteristics may be more important determinants of timely care.