Coordination, Quality Focus Makes VA Cancer Care as Good or Better than Private Sector

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WASHINGTON — VA oncology care was found to be some of the best in the nation, according to a new study looking at older men treated for cancer at VA facilities.

The study compared treatment at VA with non-VA hospitals and private office-based practices and those VA patients received care that was at least as good, if not better than, the fee-for-service Medicare population. In fact, researchers pointed out, with more severe co-morbidities among VA cancer patients, the care may be even better, it appears. Officials said this latest finding is further proof that VHA’s systemic transformation over the last two decades has resulted in better coordination, a stronger focus on preventive care and overall better patient care. 

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Cancer Caught and Treated Sooner

The VA-funded study conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers and published in last month’s issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, focused on the period between 2001 and 2004. It examined men 65 and older with colorectal, lung  or prostate cancer, as well as patients with lymphoma or multiple myeloma, comparing those treated in VA with those in the private sector.

VA patients with colon cancer were more likely to discover their cancer at an earlier stage, with 29% diagnosed at Stage 1 compared with 24% in the private-sector group. There also was a higher rate of curative surgery for colon cancer in the VA group, possibly due to the earlier diagnoses.  Other areas in which VA excelled were chemotherapy for lymphoma and bisphosphonates for myeloma. Care was shown to be equal in quality between the VA and fee-for-service Medicare for the other cancers.

The one area where researchers found that VA fell behind was in the adoption of certain new, expensive radiation therapy technology for prostate cancer. Fewer prostate cancer patients (61% at the VA, compared with 86% in the private sector) were treated with three-dimensional conformal or intensity-modulated radiation therapy.

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