Southern Cancer Network manager, Di Riley, has recently returned from the UK National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) Cancer Outcomes Conference in Belfast. The conference aims to support clinicians, managers and researchers to bring data and intelligence together to support service development.
“The goal is to discuss how we can use data to inform change and improve health outcomes,” says Di. “For example, if we want to know whether patients receive appropriate care for their condition or are delivering services in accordance with national standards, then we have to look at what data needs to be captured, preferably as part of routine care. Then we need to look at how to analyse that data and how we share it with clinicians and service managers so they can actually use it.”
Di says one of the key learnings for her from the conference relates to how we in New Zealand can use Faster Cancer Treatment data to understand how patients are accessing health care. “In England, 25% of all new cancer diagnoses occur following an admission to the emergency department (ED) which means the individual is potentially diagnosed at a later stage and likely to have a poorer outcome. Due to the similarities between the health models, the numbers for New Zealand may be similar.
“Compare that with a diagnosis following a GP appointment where the disease may be more likely to have been identified early and, as a result, the patient has a better chance at a positive health outcome. If we can understand how people are entering the system, we can work to design services that work for our communities. That might mean looking at access to GP visits or increasing people’s awareness of symptoms and pathways to care.”
Analysis of ED data, and other key parts of the cancer pathways are the central focus of several new projects the SCN and al DHBs teams aim to commence in October, following a funding from the Ministry of Health’s Service Improvement Fund.
“Through these projects, we’re hoping to gain a better understanding of the people who are first diagnosed through ED, as well as the route to diagnosis for all new cancer patients. This will help us identify opportunities to ensure more cancer patients receive their first treatment within 31 days as part of Faster Cancer Treatment.”
Fortunately, the learning wasn’t a one-way street and Di says she was able to share a number of insights with her peers at the conference about how we do things in New Zealand. “Given the geography of the South Island, we use a number of different technologies, such as videoconferencing, to communicate with one another because it can be difficult to meet in person.
“On a similar note, I also talked about the implications of moving to NZ and implementing health care models when you have to consider urban and rural populations. England is much more densely populated and has well-established roads and public transport. In the South Island, we’re very spread out, there are really only three main roads and we have a range of Alps in the way! These challenges mean we need to approach service design in quite a different way. I was able to share some of our experiences and it was very well received.”
Di says she has returned to Christchurch feeling optimistic about the work ahead of her and the Southern Cancer Network. “I know we’re looking at the right things and working in the right areas which is encouraging. It’s an exciting time for New Zealand but it’s important we keep our eyes on the strategic direction. If we all keep working together, I think we’ll achieve what we set out to achieve.”