Access to lung cancer screening in the Veterans Health Administration: Does geographic distribution match need in the population?

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Studies show uneven access to Medicare-approved lung cancer screening (LCS) programs across the US. The Veterans Health Administration (VA), the largest national US integrated health system, is potentially well-positioned to coordinate LCS services across regional units to ensure access matches distribution of need nationally.To what extent does LCS access (considering both VA and partner sites) and utilization match the distribution of eligible Veterans at state and regional levels?In this retrospective analysis, we identified LCS exams in VA facilities between 2013-2019 from the VA Corporate Data Warehouse, and plotted VA facilities with LCS geographically. We compared estimated LCS rates (unique Veterans screened / LCS-eligible population) across states and VA regional units. Finally, we assessed whether the VA’s new partnership with the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer (which includes over 750 LCS centers) closes geographic gaps in LCS access.We identified 71,898 LCS exams in 96 of 139 (69.1%) VA facilities in 44 states between 2013-2019, with substantial variation across states (0-8 VA LCS facilities per state). Screening rates among eligible Veterans in the population varied more than 30-fold across regional networks (RR 33.6, 95% CI 30.8-36.7 for VA New England versus VISN 4), with weak correlation between eligible populations and LCS rates (coefficient -0.30). Partnering with the GO2 Foundation expands capacity and access (e.g., all states now have ≥1 VA or partner LCS site), but 9 of the 12 states with the highest proportions of rural Veterans still have ≤3 total LCS facilities.Disparities in LCS access exist based on where Veterans live, particularly for rural Veterans, even after partnering with the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer. The nationally integrated VA system has an opportunity to leverage regional resources to better distribute and coordinate LCS services to ensure equitable access.

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Authors: Jacqueline H Boudreau, Donald R Miller, Shirley Qian, Eduardo R Nunez, Tanner J Caverly, Renda Soylemez Wiener