Lack of Public Data Muddles Search for CO's Best Cancer Care
February 15, 2010
Lack of public data muddles search for Colo.'s best cancer care
Source: Denver Post | January 9, 2010
Comment E-mail Print Bookmark Share Share Article
DIGG DELICIOUS LINKEDIN YAHOO! BUZZ FACEBOOK Close
Do you want to bookmark “”?
E-mail to a friend
(Separate multiple addresses with commas)
(Maximum length: 1,000 characters)
Disclaimer: AARP.org does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.
E-mail to our Author
(Maximum length: 1,000 characters)
Thank you for submitting your comment or question to AARP Bulletin Today. Your post is now on its way to the appropriate Bulletin writer. Due to the large volume of communications we receive, we regret that we cannot answer or acknowledge all correspondence. Disclaimer: AARP.org does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.
Study says illegal immigrants are valuable to country, economy
Analysts skeptical that 3-D will reward TV makers' enthusiasm
Many health, human services on state chopping block
Carbon easing into Weatherwood sale
Counting time drawing near
A new cancer center at Exempla St. Joseph Hospital is touting its all-in-one treatment ? patients can see an oncologist, reconstructive breast surgeon and psychologist all in the same building.
Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers boasts 20 close-to-home clinics in such far-flung places as La Junta, Salida and Steamboat Springs.
And National Jewish Health is trying to attract cancer patients with its high-tech lung scanners and minimally invasive bronchoscope.
It's difficult to tell, though, which hospitals in Colorado are best at saving the lives of people diagnosed with cancer.
The state collects survival and mortality rates for its cancer registry, but it releases the information only as statewide averages ? the registry does not identify specific hospitals.
The federal Medicare program does not rate hospitals based on cancer outcomes.
The National Cancer Institute's prestigious "comprehensive cancer center" designations are based on research, not patient survival.
The lack of public data in health care has become a key issue as Congress debates reform, with some questioning how consumers can shop for the best care when data on quality ? not to mention price ? are not easily available.
Bennet pushes transparency
The bill passed by the Senate has a requirement that hospitals and cancer centers report their patient outcomes to the federal Medicare office. Hospitals with the best outcomes would get the highest reimbursements.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is pushing a "transparency" amendment that would require health-insurance companies to reveal how much they are reimbursing hospitals for specific procedures. The public would have access to the data.
Neither measure would force public access to hospital-specific cancer data, however.
Colorado lawmakers recently began requiring health care centers to report hospital-acquired infections, information compiled for a public report. Advocates of the law said "pushback" from hospitals was intense.
"Hospitals don't like to reveal that information," said Denise de Percin, executive director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. "You are always going to get the rates when they are better than the state average and better than the national average, but not when they are average or below."
Consumers can find hospital ratings ? one, three or five stars ? by HealthGrades online (HealthGrades.com), a company that analyzes federal Medicare data on mortality and complications from procedures including knee replacements and heart surgeries.
More in-depth reports on doctors, nursing homes and hospitals are available for $12.95.
HealthGrades reports that, on average, patients have a 72 percent lower likelihood of dying at five-star hospitals compared with one-star hospitals, said spokesman Scott Shapiro.
The company does not analyze cancer data, however.
Several hospitals released their five-year survival rates for different types of cancers after requests from The Denver Post. But it's difficult to make fair comparisons because the hospitals use different time periods and different statewide averages.
Five-year survival rates at the University of Colorado Cancer Center are among the best in the state. About 16 percent of patients diagnosed with stage-four liver cancer survive five years, compared with 3.6 percent nationally and 5.1 percent statewide, according to the hospital.
Data from Swedish Medical Center show its five-year survival rate of 14.3 percent for patients diagnosed with stage-four uterine cancer is equal to the national average.
The hospital bests the national average in survival rates for breast, colon and prostate cancers.
St. Joseph Hospital's five-year survival rate for stage-four breast cancer is 20.5 percent ? just below the state average of 21.3 but higher than the U.S. average of 18.4, according to the hospital.
Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers said its data were unavailable.
Survival rates vary at Rocky clinics across the state, said Dr. Leslie Busby, medical oncologist at the Boulder center. One reason is that income, education and race statistically affect cancer survival rates, he said.
Also, patients might start treatment at one hospital and switch to another hospital when their cancer has advanced, making the statistics of the second hospital unfairly worse, doctors said.
Hospital choice has impact
The state keeps confidential the names of hospitals required to report cancer-survival rates. It's up to hospitals whether to publish their data in their own annual reports.
"I don't want to say the data are proprietary, but it can be sensitive when it's at a hospital," said Randi Rycroft, director of the Colorado Central Cancer Registry.
The point of the registry is to monitor cancer rates statewide, to see whether cancer is more prevalent in certain areas or whether specific treatment programs have positive outcomes.
Doctors say a person's odds of beating cancer depend on overall health, age and the aggressiveness of the cancer. But the choice of physician or cancer center also has an impact, said Dr. Richard Hesky, director of the St. Joseph Comprehensive Cancer Center in Denver.
"I feel strongly about that," he said. "What matters is not only the particular physician you happen to see but the model of care they are practicing."
Experience matters too, Hesky said, pointing out that 25 percent of breast-cancer patients in the Denver area come to St. Joseph.
Prospective patients, though, would have to do some digging to find out which cancer centers in the state have treated the most patients with a certain type of cancer and how their survival outcomes compare.
"If you look in the yellow pages under cancer centers, it's a pretty long list," he said. "But they aren't all what I would call cancer centers."
Jennifer Brown: 303-954-1593 or firstname.lastname@example.org