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Enabling Informed Surgical Choices for Breast Cancer Through Shared Decision Making

One out of every eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, and men have a lifetime risk of one in 1,000. This year, over 3.1 million women are currently being treated or have finished treatment for breast cancer.

The Virginia Piper Cancer Institute had clear evidence-based practice guidelines that directed recommendations for early breast cancer treatment options. Even with these evidence-based recommendations, however, the organization’s mastectomy rates were higher than expected.

Recognizing the organization could do better, the breast cancer program committee endorsed the spread of shared decision making for patients with early-stage breast cancer to all Virginia Piper Cancer Institute locations. The spread of shared decision making allowed patients to receive evidence-based information early in their course of care and make informed decisions that aligned with their values and preferences.

Within nine months of implementing a standard process for shared decision-making visits, the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute clinics that have completely adopted the process have made significant progress in engaging patients with early breast cancer in the shared decision-making process:

  • 81 percent of eligible patients (207 people) participated in shared decision-making visits.
  • 62 percent of the shared decision-making visits were in person.
  • 27 percent relative increase in surgical decision of lumpectomy over mastectomy.
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Shared Decision-Making Leads to Better Decisions and Improves Patient Relationships

Shared decision-making is the process by which clinicians and patients work together to make decisions and select tests, treatments, and care plans based on clinical evidence. Shared decision-making balances risk and expected outcomes with patient preferences and values, empowering patients to make informed decisions.

Project leadership at Allina Health didn’t have a way to know if shared decision-making interventions were being applied. By utilizing its analytics platform, Allina Health was able to track whether or not decision support tools were being used consistently and if shared decision-making conversations were happening, if there was variation in how and when they were being used, and if they were making a difference.

Within nine months of implementing the standard shared decision-making process Allina Health substantially increased the number of patients participating in the program:

  • 749 patients have participated in a shared decision-making visit across the system, including:
    • 69 percent of eligible patients with low back pain.
    • 84 percent of eligible patients with early breast cancer.
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Advancing Health Equity – Data Driven Strategies Reduce Health Inequities

Health equity means that everyone has an equal opportunity to live the healthiest life possible – this requires removing obstacles to health. The U.S. ranks last on nearly all measures of equity, as indicated by its large, disparities in health outcomes. Illness, disability, and death in the United States are more prevalent and more severe for minority groups. Health inequities persist in Minnesota as well, which motivated Allina Health to take targeted actions to reduce inequities.

Allina Health needed actionable data to identify disparities and to reduce these inequities. This came in the form of REAL (race, ethnicity, and language) data, which Allina Health analysts used to visualize how health outcomes vary by demographic characteristics including race, ethnicity, and language.  To understand the root causes of specific disparities as well as to identify solutions within their sphere of influence as a healthcare delivery system, Allina Health consulted the literature and also consulted patients, employees and community members. Then Allina Health created appropriate interventions based on this information.

As a result, Allina Health created an awareness of the health inequities among its patient populations, as well as effective approaches to breach the barriers that were preventing these patients from getting the care they needed. While much work remains in this long journey to achieve health equity, Allina Health has taken some significant steps forward, including:

  • Three percent relative improvement in colorectal cancer (CRC) screening rates for targeted populations, exceeding national CRC screening rates by more than ten percentage points.
  • REAL data embedded in dashboards and workflow to easily identify and monitor disparities.
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