As we focus on Lung Cancer Awareness in November, we look to Hilary Deskins, RN, BSN to help educate and raise awareness on the importance of lung cancer screening and early detection. Deskins has helped build and expand more than 30 lung cancer screening programs across the country. She joined HealthMyne in April as an Oncology Navigation Consultant, following 24 years at KentuckyOne Health where she created a lung cancer screening program in 2012 and grew it to one of the nation’s largest in just four years.
Lung cancer is the cause of more than 150,000 deaths in the U.S. annually, a statistic that makes it the leading cause of cancer mortality in the United States. Why? Most lung cancer patients are typically diagnosed at an advanced stage, so their ability to survive for five years after diagnosis is less than 10%. “That’s why early diagnosis is crucial,” Deskins says. “If lung cancer is found at a localized stage, your five-year survival rate increases to about 55-60%. However, only 16% of lung cancer patients are diagnosed at an early stage, and only about 3.5% of those eligible for screening currently get tested.”
Those facts offer a powerful reason to embrace more routine lung cancer screening: a quick, outpatient, low-dose CT scan for those who meet criteria set out by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) related to age, smoking history and absence of symptoms. Deskins says smoking accounts for about 80% of lung cancer deaths in the United States, and smoking quantity and duration is directly associated with lung cancer risk. The more you smoke, the longer you’ve smoked, the higher your risk. Several screening program research studies have shown that lung cancer mortality can be decreased by 20-26% from an annual screening.
Deskins shares a case in point: “When we first started our lung cancer screening program at KentuckyOne in Louisville, most of the lung cancers we were finding were stage three and stage four. Very, very sad. But as the screening program matured and several years went by, we had patients that were getting screened over and over again. That’s when we started to see a decrease in stage three and four findings, and started detecting lung cancer at stage one, where it’s actually curable. The whole idea behind the lung screening program is to find lung cancers not just in time to be treated, but to find them early enough that they’re actually curable. This annual test should be as routine as a mammogram or a colonoscopy for the patients who meet the criteria.”
Having seen first-hand the power of lung cancer screening to reduce patient mortality, Deskins joined HealthMyne for the opportunity to share her experiences with more hospital systems across the county.
“My background is in gastro-intestinal medicine, and I had already set up a very successful colon screening program at KentuckyOne when my boss asked if I could create a similar program for lungs,” Deskins explains. “So we set up the lung cancer screening program in 2012 and within three years we had 21 sites. We screened over 1,700 patients in 2016 and found 36 lung cancers. I made mistakes along the way, but there is no reason for everyone else to repeat those mistakes,” she continues. “The HealthMyne Platform is so much better than the paper spreadsheet I started with. I’m in heaven in this job because I’m able to share what I’ve learned, and I know what facilities need.”
Deskins’ experience suggests facilities need effective lung cancer screening programs to provide better care and better outcomes for their patients. Her goal is to make sure those programs are as successful as possible so the maximum number of patients can be screened and more lives can be saved.
“The question is, ‘How can we take better care of our patients, reduce the workload on our staff, keep our noses clean from a liability standpoint and make money doing it?’” she asks. “HealthMyne helps sites do that. With the HealthMyne Platform, you’ve got a software program that helps clinicians do a more consistent job more efficiently, while helping keep better track of findings and follow-up. And with those advantages, you can produce better outcomes and also keep patients in your own system when they need additional tests and care.”
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