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VA project aims to reduce cancer-related diagnostic delays

Doctors have access to a large amount of information from their patients, including signs, symptoms or results from tests. As medicine has changed in recent years, doctors have had to increase the number of patients they see, in shorter appointments. The combination of these factors can lead to missed diagnoses or missed opportunities to diagnose a problem in a timely fashion. A new study spearheaded by the Veterans Administration will help expedite cancer diagnosis and treatment for patients in the primary care setting. The study aims to proactively identify patients with abnormal test findings suspicious for cancer by utilizing advanced search methods in electronic medical health records.

Kyle Richards, MD, chief of urology at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, was named site principal investigator for the multi-institutional randomized prospective trial Automated Point-of-Care Surveillance of Outpatient Delays in Cancer Diagnosis. “Studies like this utilize the power of the electronic medical record to hopefully decrease diagnostic error and shorten the time to diagnosis, especially for patients with undiagnosed cancers,” explains Richards.

Three aims have been identified for the four-year study. In the first aim, search terms used to trigger health records of patients needing follow-up care were defined and tested. In the second aim, the research team evaluated the current system for triggering follow-up testing for at-risk patients. The third aim of the project, which will take place at the VA hospital in Madison, looks to determine how the automated surveillance system affects the timeliness of the diagnostic process.

This study is funded by the VA Office of Research and Development, Health Services Research and Development Service’s initiative Collaborative Research to Enhance and Advance Transformation and Excellence (CREATE). The current work is focused on five common cancers — colorectal, prostate, lung, hepatocellular, and breast.


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