Setting up a rapid diagnostic clinic for patients with vague symptoms of cancer: a mixed method process evaluation study

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The study sought to evaluate the impact of a Rapid Diagnostic Clinic (RDC) service designed to improve general practitioner (GP) referral processes for patients who do not meet existing referral criteria yet present with vague - but potentially concerning - symptoms of cancer. We sought to investigate how well the RDC has performed in the views of local GPs and patients, and through analysis of its activity and performance in the first two years of operation.
The study setting was a single, hospital-based RDC clinic in a University Health Board in South Wales. We used a mixed-method process evaluation study, including routinely collected activity and diagnosis data. All GPs were invited to participate in an online survey (34/165 responded), and a smaller group (n = 8) were interviewed individually. Two focus groups with patients and their carers (n = 7) provided in-depth personal accounts of their experiences.
The focus groups revealed high rates of patient satisfaction with the RDC. GPs were also overwhelmingly positive about the value of the RDC to their practice. There were 574 clinic attendances between July 2017 and March 2019; the mean age of attendees was 68, 57% were female, and approximately 30% had three or more vague symptoms. Of those attending, we estimated between 42 to 71 (7.3% and 12.3%) received preliminary cancer diagnoses. Median time from GP referral to RDC appointment was 12 days; from GP referral to cancer diagnosis was 34 days. Overall, 73% of RDC patients received either a new diagnosis (suspected cancer 23.2%, non-cancer 35.9%) or an onward referral to secondary care for further investigation with no new diagnosis (13.9%), and 27% were referred to primary care with no new diagnosis.
The RDC appears to enable a good patient experience in cancer diagnosis. Patients are seen in timely fashion, and the service is highly regarded by them, their carers, and referring GPs. Although too early to draw conclusions about long-term patient outcomes, there are strong indications to suggest that this model of service provision can set higher standards for a strongly patient-centred service.
Original languageEnglish
Article number357
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2021


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