What is quality, and can we define it in lung cancer?—the case for quality improvement
Decades worth of advances in diagnostics and therapeutics are associated with only marginal improvements in survival among lung cancer patients. An obvious explanation is late stage at presentation, but gaps in the quality of care may be another reason for stifled improvements in survival rates. A framework for quality put forth by Avedis Donabedian consists of measuring structures-of-care, processes, and outcomes. Using this approach to explore for potential quality gaps, there is evidence of inexplicable variability in outcomes across patients and hospitals; variation in outcomes across differing provider types (structures-of-care); and variation in approaches to staging (processes-of-care). However, this research has limitations and incontrovertible evidence of quality gaps is challenging to obtain. Other challenges to defining quality include scientific and clinical uncertainty among providers and the fact that quality is a multi-dimensional construct that cannot be measured by a single metric. Nonetheless, two facts compel us to pursue quality improvement: (I) both empirically and anecdotally, actual care falls short of expected care; and (II) evidence of potential quality gaps is not ignorable primarily on ethical grounds.