Are the Rankings of Cancer Hospitals Really Accurate? The Experts Weigh In (Yes, Quality Matters)

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is the top cancer hospital in the country once again according to U.S. News & World Report. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is ranked second followed by the Mayo Clinic. U.S. News says the rankings are determined by scoring based on “four elements: survival, patient safety, care-related factors such as the intensity of nurse staffing and the breadth of patient services, and expert opinion obtained through the physician survey.” Dr. Larry Norton, the Medical Director of the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center breaks it down this way: “Volume = experience = efficiency = better results. All else being equal.”

There are 70 hospitals designated as Comprehensive Cancer Centers. The National Cancer Institute says these hospitals “form the backbone of NCI’s programs for studying and controlling cancer.” So do these NCI designated centers provide the best treatment over smaller hospitals? There are some studies which suggest they do. A  2015 study from Sloan Kettering found that patients treated in academic hospitals had a “ten percent lower chance of dying in the first year than patients treated at other non-teaching hospitals.” Another study of patients from Los Angeles treated at comprehensive cancer centers “experienced superior survival ” compared to those patients not treated in such centers.

 

 

But many experts do not think the evidence is conclusive.” I don’t think that there is data to show that treatment at NCI designated centers improves outcomes per se,” says Dr. Derek Raghavan, President of Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte. Additionally, he says, the kind of patients seen at a major center may affect their mortality statistics. “It is hard to correct for referral patterns by which the sickest patients are seen in the best places, putting further strain on their outcomes measures,” he says.

55% of cancer patients are treated at community hospitals and many patients want to be treated close to home. There are efforts today to try to increase the number of patients at those community hospitals that have access to the same kind of facilities and treatments that patients expect at larger cancer centers.

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