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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Report: Spokane cancer care quality near state average

The quality of cancer care at Spokane clinics is around the state average, but most show room for improvement in patient hospitalizations.

That’s one of the conclusions of a report released this week from the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, a research institute that’s part of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

It also shows treatment at Spokane providers typically costs less than the state average.

Dr. Scott Ramsey, the institute’s director, said the report is a first step toward improving the quality of cancer care across Washington. Most clinics, he said, have little sense of how they perform relative to their peers.

“Every one of these cancer providers does things well and also has areas where they need to improve,” Ramsey said. “This is not a name and shame deal. This is trying to give these clinics a sense of where they are.”

Spokane’s three major oncology centers – Rockwood (now MultiCare), Cancer Care Northwest and Summit Cancer Centers– were among the clinics evaluated.

The report looked at whether breast, lung and colorectal cancer patients received recommended treatments and anti-nausea medications during chemotherapy, how often patients were hospitalized or visited the emergency room during chemotherapy, whether patients needed follow-up imaging and testing, and end-of-life care.

It’s based on patient data from patients insured through Medicare, Premera, Regence or Uniform Medical Plan who received cancer care from 2014-16, with a minimum of 40 patients per clinic.

Rockwood, Cancer Care Northwest and Summit were above the state average.

Local providers fared worse on emergency room visits and hospitalization rates during chemotherapy. In an ideal world, patients wouldn’t need to be hospitalized during chemo, so lower rates mean a clinic is performing better.

Cancer Care Northwest was closest to the regional average, with about 28 percent of chemo patients visiting the emergency room (versus 29 percent statewide), and 40 percent having inpatient hospital stays (versus 37 percent statewide).

At Rockwood, hospitalization and emergency room visit rates were slightly higher.

“This report highlights the overall excellent quality of care provided by all oncology centers in the Spokane area,” wrote Dr. Kirk Lund, an oncologist with MultiCare Rockwood Clinic, in a statement.

He said higher hospitalization rates in Eastern Washington overall could reflect demographic characteristics in the region compared to the Puget Sound.

“MultiCare Rockwood applauds the HICOR project, and looks forward to a close collaboration to improve the quality of cancer care throughout the region,” Lund said.

Data from Rockwood was collected before Tacoma-based MultiCare bought the provider last year.

As written, the report is mostly geared toward health care providers and cancer clinics, not patients, Ramsey said. But the institute is working on a friendlier version of the information, and wants to start a dialogue with input from patients on improving care.

The institute is also holding a cancer care summit Thursday in Seattle for patients, health professionals and others working in the field.

So far, it has received little input from patients in Eastern Washington, something Ramsey said they’d like to fix.

“We know there are distinct issues with people getting access in rural settings,” he said.

Patients who want to share their experience or suggest improvements to care can email or fill out a form on the Fred Hutch Value in Cancer Care website.

This story has been corrected to include results of Summit Cancer Centers