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Why are cancer outcomes worse in some communities than others? The American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) seek to address disparities in cancer outcomes head-on by applying the methodology of quality improvement and empowering health professionals to make changes in workplace processes and culture that improve the care they offer. ASCO’s Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI) and Quality Training Program (QTP), which had previously helped major institutions across the country take a systems-level approach to improving outcomes, have now been made available to a wider diversity of practices treating cancer.

With support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) as part of its Global Health Initiative (GHI), 9 cancer treatment practices working among underserved populations around the United States received grants to take part in ASCO’s QOPI and QTP, aiding staff and clinicians in their work to provide the best care possible. This offered the 9 practices the opportunity to assess their processes and apply evidence-based improvements across the institution, addressing issues including lack of access to timely care, language and literacy barriers, and difficulty navigating treatment.

The practices, each of which has now graduated from the QTP, are spread across the country, some in major cities like San Francisco, New York, and Milwaukee and others serving more rural areas like Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Sidney, Montana. All serve patients from communities facing socioeconomic disadvantages.

Collectively, these practices have the capacity to serve more than 49,000 patients annually, and the results for these patients have been concrete. One practice, for instance, decreased the amount of time patients had to wait to receive an infusion by 36%, from 167 minutes to 107 minutes.

A quality improvement approach in health care emphasizes team-oriented, multidisciplinary efforts toward achieving zero harm for patients, the workplace culture that encourages this, and the leadership tools that can help bring this culture about. It’s an approach that can be especially potent in the complex case of cancer care.

SNF’s 2019 grant for these quality improvement efforts built on the success of a 2015 grant that piloted similar support.