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Effort to improve radiation therapy for veterans receives nearly $4 million

Program monitors quality, safety of therapy at VHA centers nationwide

February 8, 2017


In a national effort to improve and standardize radiation therapy for U.S. veterans with cancer, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has contracted with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis for an additional $3.8 million to fund the project.

Federal funding for the effort, which aims to ensure that veterans receive the same high-quality radiation therapy at any of the 40 VHA radiation oncology centers across the country, now totals $4.5 million. The additional funding extends the length of the contract to three years, from one year.

The VHA, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is the country’s largest integrated health-care system, serving more than 8 million veterans each year. The VHA’s National Radiation Oncology Program is coordinating the project.

“This second phase of funding allows us to apply the measures developed last year, to assess care delivered to our veterans,” said Jeff M. Michalski, MD, the Carlos Perez Distinguished Professor of Radiation Oncology and a physician-researcher at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. “Improving outcomes requires defining the quality of care currently provided.”

Along with surgery and chemotherapy, radiotherapy is a major treatment method for a variety of cancer types.

Together with the American Society for Radiation Oncology, Washington University radiation oncologists — physicians at Siteman Cancer Center — have established metrics to assess the quality and safety of each veteran’s cancer therapy.

The new program is called the Radiation Oncology Practice Assessment Program. This year, radiation oncologists are establishing the necessary infrastructure to evaluate quality of care for veterans undergoing treatment for lung and prostate cancers.

During the program’s second and third years, staff from the School of Medicine’s Department of Radiation Oncology will conduct site visits at each VA radiation oncology practice. Health records and radiation treatments will be reviewed and scored to determine that care was provided according to metrics established during the first part of the project.

To protect the patients’ identities, the data will be made anonymous before it is analyzed. The Washington University team will gather the institutional data for the VA’s National Radiation Oncology Program, which will use it to set new standards.

The goal is to consistently update oncologists on each patient’s therapy and response.

Washington University School of Medicine‘s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Siteman Cancer Center, ranked among the top cancer treatment centers by U.S. News & World Report, also is one of only a few cancer centers in the U.S. to receive the highest rating of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Comprising the cancer research, prevention and treatment programs of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Siteman is Missouri’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and the state’s only member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.