Care quality for head and neck cancers varies across hospitals, study finds

Care quality for U.S. patients with head and neck cancers varies significantly, but is not affected by a hospital's size or the volume of patients it treats annually, a study published in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery found.

The researchers looked at records of patients treated at 770 hospitals and analyzed benchmark factors for care quality, including appropriate use of radiation therapy, negative surgical margins (indicating all the cancer at that location was removed) and lymph node removal involving at least 18 nodes.

Hospitals received scores depending on how closely they hit the benchmarks. The average overall quality score for all hospitals was 69.2 percent. Scores varied from a high of 90 percent to a low of 45 percent.

Scores varied widely regardless of hospital type. For example, scores for academic hospitals varied from 48 percent to 82 percent, while scores for community hospitals ranged from 48 percent to 89 percent.

"There was pretty significant variation in quality within even academic medical centers and free-standing cancer centers," study co-author Umamaheswar Duvvuri, MD, PhD, told Reuters.

To help determine a hospital's care quality, Dr. Duvvuri said patients should ask whether staff practice in a multidisciplinary team and whether radiotherapy is given in a timely fashion.

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