Evaluating Causes of Death to Improve Survival
Evaluating one-year survival, and the impact of efforts to improve survival, are challenging tasks for both FACT and accredited Clinical Programs. Hematopoietic progenitor cell (HPC) transplantation itself is complex before considering the confounding variables and unique patient characteristics required for outcome analysis. Many programs’ corrective action plans hint at a common struggle – where to start?
Risk-adjusted measures will always have weaknesses. Data definitions are necessary but can be rigid. Socioeconomic and geographic characteristics often have an impact but are difficult to measure. The sickest of patients needed alternatives, too. It is easy to feel that a program’s performance against comparative, risk-adjusted data is somewhat out of its control.
The FACT Clinical Outcomes Improvement Committee suggests programs start with cause of death, in a very literal sense. Identification of specific causes of death serves as a starting point for investigation. A quantitative, data-driven approach prevents inaccurate assumptions, especially in emotionally-charged situations. For example, high-risk patients need alternatives and programs may choose to approve them for transplant. By looking at causes of death, programs can focus on improvements within their control, such as risk-stratified approaches to choosing preparative regimens to address deaths caused by transplant-related mortality.
For U.S. allogeneic transplant programs, cause of death reporting is subject to rules set by the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR). CIBMTR provides an easily accessible Forms Instruction Manual at http://www.cibmtr.org/manuals/fim. Among many subjects in this online manual, the CIBMTR lists rules for cause of death codes. There are several training and educational resources, also, and can be found on CIBMTR’s Training and References webpage. (For resources on the broader topic of the CIBMTR and FACT joint data audit program, visit FACT’s Data Management Resource Center.)
Clinical Programs are also encouraged to use internal data for outcome analysis. Internal cause of death data is not just helpful, but important. There are often contributory, secondary causes of death in addition to the primary cause. For example, a pediatric program may have a high rate of deaths caused by multi-organ failure, contributed by infection related to a high proportion of patients transplanted for an immunodeficiency. Programs may seek not only improvements in infection control, but also take actions to shorten the time to transplant or use granulocyte transfusion protocols.
Cause of death data can make the path toward outcome analysis and improvement clearer. Such data prevent incorrect assumptions, are available to both large and small programs, and provide a starting point for the complex process of evaluating one-year survival. Thank you for your efforts to improve survival of transplant recipients, and we will continue to share lessons learned via the FACT accreditation process.