Quality improvement mechanisms to improve lymph node staging for lung cancer: Trends from a statewide database

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The Journal of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery


OBJECTIVE: Our statewide thoracic quality collaborative has implemented multiple quality improvement initiatives to improve lung cancer nodal staging. We subsequently implemented a value-based reimbursement initiative to further incentivize quality improvement. We compare the impact of these programs to steer future quality improvement initiatives.

METHODS: Since 2016, our collaborative focused on improving lymph node staging for lung cancer by leveraging unblinded, hospital-level metrics and collaborative feedback. In 2021, a value-based reimbursement initiative was implemented with statewide yearly benchmark rates for (1) preoperative mediastinal staging for ≥T2N0 lung cancer, and (2) sampling ≥5 lymph node stations. Participating surgeons would receive additional reimbursement if either benchmark was met. We reviewed patients from January 2015 to March 2023 at the 21 participating hospitals to determine the differential effects on quality improvement.

RESULTS: We analyzed 6228 patients. In 2015, 212 (39%) patients had ≥5 nodal stations sampled, and 99 (51%) patients had appropriate preoperative mediastinal staging. During 2016 to 2020, this increased to 2253 (62%) patients and 739 (56%) patients, respectively. After 2020, 1602 (77%) patients had ≥5 nodal stations sampled, and 403 (73%) patients had appropriate preoperative mediastinal staging. Interrupted time-series analysis demonstrated significant increases in adequate nodal sampling and mediastinal staging before value-based reimbursement. Afterward, preoperative mediastinal staging rates briefly dropped but significantly increased while nodal sampling did not change.

CONCLUSIONS: Collaborative quality improvement made significant progress before value-based reimbursement, which reinforces the effectiveness of leveraging unblinded data to a collaborative group of thoracic surgeons. Value-based reimbursement may still play a role within a quality collaborative to maintain infrastructure and incentivize participation.

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ePub ahead of print