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

Sarah Colonna, John Sweetenham, Trever B. Burgon, Saundra S. Buys, Ray Lynch, Trang Au, Eric Johnson, Timothy Kubal, David Paculdo, Maria Czarina Acelajado, John W. Peabody

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


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. To reduce unwanted clinical variation in a multidisciplinary breast cancer team, we utilized patient simulations with feedback and the in-house development of breast cancer pathways. At baseline, we found high variation in care decisions across the team. After introduction of clinical pathways and serial measurement and feedback of patient simulations, we saw significantly reduced variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e376-e384
JournalClinical Breast Cancer
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes



  • Clinical pathways
  • Evidence-based medicine
  • Practice improvement
  • Standardization of care
  • Variation reduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

Cite this