Oncology Networks Best Practices — A Study of Governance, Resources and Clinical Coordination

As cancer prevalence continues to rise in the U.S., demand increases for highly coordinated oncology networks that provide the best possible patient care closest to home. A Kurt Salmon study conducted in the fall of 2010 found that all regional oncology networks surveyed are in the process of increasing coordination of services and resources, but that most networks remain at a low or intermediate level of development. As many networks remain underdeveloped in certain key areas, investing resources in enhancing the network now can create an opportunity for growth and value in the future.

The study was conducted to better understand current levels of development and best practices in three areas: organization and governance, systems and resources and clinical care coordination. Examined together, these three areas create a broad picture of the maturity of oncology networks. The chart below describes some of the best practices in each area.

  • Organization and governance: The most advanced oncology networks have governance administered through a central oncology network leadership council consisting of key administrative, physician and nursing leadership. This body has defined authority over network resources across all sites and is coordinated with other governance structures, such as the CEOs of individual hospital sites.
  • Systems and resources: Leading networks have developed highly coordinated centralized systems and resources supporting the network. The network has a central administrator and staff that lead, coordinate, direct and support network development. Leading oncology networks are distinguished by their increased dedication to developing electronic health records and common IT systems across network sites. Network planning and budgeting are completed across multi-year cycles to support advancement.
  • Clinical care coordination: This area represents the most underdeveloped aspect of the oncology networks studied. The best practices are implementation of common clinical care protocol sets across all sites, instantaneous access to patient records at any point of care and demonstrating improved clinical outcomes. All participants envision this as the future state, even though few have achieved it in practice.
The study also identifies eight lessons about the interplay between the three areas studied and potential priorities for future development, as highlighted in the chart below.

Over the past decade, the major focus of oncology networks has been on forming the organization and develop¬ing basic resources. To date, little progress has been made in coordinating clinical care protocols and standardizing treatment processes across the network. Leading networks see advancing clinical care coordination as the next important area for network development and are creating multi-year plans and budgets to support this goal. We expect many networks to address the key challenges and barriers to coordinating care over the next few years by engaging physicians; developing dedicated staff; and investing in IT systems, interfaces and health information exchange. Achievement of clinical care coordination will significantly improve the value of the networks and prepare the organization for the future healthcare environment.

For more information and to view the complete Kurt Salmon study in white paper format, visit: www.kurtsalmon.com/oncology.

Gerard M. Nussbaum and Laura Rehfeld have more than 30 years of experience advising hospital and health system leaders. They can be reached at gerard.nussbaum@kurtsalmon.com and laura.rehfeld@kurtsalmon.com.

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