Gastrointestinal Cancer Group Honored for Outstanding Patient Care

June 30, 2009
News Office: Robin Hindery (415) 502-6397

Members of UCSF's gastrointestinal (GI) oncology group are the inaugural recipients of the Helen Diller Family Quality Award, an honor that recognizes exceptional commitment to providing superior patient care.

The group, led by gastrointestinal cancer expert Dr. Alan Venook, was named the top performer in the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center's quality initiative, a pilot project launched in 2007.

The quality initiative was created "to ensure patients are getting great, consistent care," and also to compare UCSF's performance in cancer care with other medical institutions, said Dr. Peter Carroll, director of strategic planning and clinical services at the cancer center and chair of the UCSF Department of Urology.

Each practice within the cancer center at UCSF's Mount Zion campus was asked to identify a significant quality rating for a specific cancer diagnosis, and then to submit a report summarizing the practice's performance based on that rating for fiscal year 2008.

An independent panel comprising Dr. Joshua Adler, UCSF Medical Center's chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Hiatt, the cancer center's deputy director, and nurse Brigid Ide, director of quality services for the medical center, rated the submissions.

The GI cancer group ranked highest among the 20 practices that participated in the quality initiative. Five practices — breast oncology, breast surgery, colorectal surgery, endocrine surgery and GI surgical oncology — were named runners-up.

For its part, the GI cancer group chose to monitor its compliance with the recommendation that colon cancer patients receive post-surgery chemotherapy within nine months of diagnosis — a quality indicator endorsed by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the National Initiative for Cancer Care Quality.

Studies have demonstrated an eight percent survival advantage among colon cancer patients who receive chemotherapy after surgery, said Ann Griffin, manager of the UCSF Cancer Registry.

Colon and rectal cancer will kill nearly 50,000 Americans in 2009, the National Cancer Institute estimates.

According to the GI oncology group's practice report, among a random sample of 32 patients with stage 3 colon cancer who were diagnosed or treated at UCSF in 2007, each one received, or was recommended to receive, chemotherapy within nine months of surgery.

What's more, a review of UCSF cases submitted to the National Cancer Data Base from 1998 to 2006 showed that compliance with the postoperative chemotherapy guideline was consistently greater than 95 percent, Griffin said.

When compared with cancer programs at 259 teaching hospitals across the country, the five-year survival rate of UCSF's stage 3 colon cancer patients was significantly higher: 70 percent of UCSF patients were alive at five years after diagnosis, compared with 51 percent of patients at the other hospitals, Griffin said.

"We try to do our best, and I'm glad the metrics suggest we're doing that," said Venook, a professor at UCSF School of Medicine and the former associate chief of medical oncology.

Venook took the lead on the quality initiative, but three others shared in the Helen Diller Family Quality Award: Dr. Andrew Ko, Dr. Michael Korn and Dr. Emily Bergsland, all specialists in gastrointestinal cancer.

The awards were presented June 29, 2009 by a group of prominent UCSF administrators, including Carroll; Adler; Frank McCormick, cancer center director; Dr. Sam Hawgood, interim dean of the UCSF School of Medicine; and Dr. Eric Small, leader of the UCSF Prostate Cancer Center. Bergsland was absent from the ceremony, but will be honored later, Griffin said.

Venook called the group "an assembly of the who's who in this place," and Carroll responded that their presence was a reflection of the importance of quality patient care to UCSF's leadership.

"Quality is what we are about at UCSF, and it's great to be able to celebrate it when we can," Hawgood added.

The UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center plans to expand its quality initiative beyond the practices located on the Medical Center's Mount Zion campus to include all adult and pediatric cancer practices throughout UCSF, said Gerrie Shields, the center's director of clinical services administration.