Dr. Gary Lyman, MD, MPH, a researcher and former professor of medicine at the School of Medicine, has been chosen to head the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research based at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The institution evaluates different cancer treatment strategies along with their economic implications and presents the information to both doctors and patients in order to aid them in choosing an ideal treatment plan. Lyman, who began his position as co-director on Jan. 2, spoke with The Chronicle’s Aleena Karediya to discuss the institution and his vision for the future.

The Chronicle: How is the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research different from other cancer institutes across the United States?

Gary Lyman: This institute, headed by my fellow co-chair [Dr. Scott Ramsey] and I, will be looking at patterns of health care dealing with cancer, cancer treatments, side effects and outcomes such as quality of life and survival rates. The dimension we add that’s wholly unique to our program is that of cost. We’ll be looking at the holistic effect of cancer on the lives of these patients, not only in terms of the disease, but also in terms of cost. Essentially, we evaluate and compile raw data showing which [treatment] options have the greatest value economically and medically, and present this information to patients in order to help them make informed decisions about their battle through cancer. It’s a very useful approach for improving existing health care, specifically cancer care and alleviating the heavy economic burden that families face when dealing with the costs of treatment.

TC: This added dimension of cost analysis seems like a novel way to change an old model of health analysis. Do you see this model being rolled out to analyzing treatments for other diseases such as diabetes or heart disease?

GL: Absolutely. In fact, many of the members of the institute come from medical backgrounds that focus on things completely unrelated to cancer. Our model can be applied to any realm of medicine where expensive diagnostic tests or treatments are available that can improve patient outcomes. Everybody is looking for that balance between cost and effective treatment, and our systematic, analytic approach is definitely something that can be rolled out to other diseases. It’s not unique to cancer, but is applicable to everything from orthopedics to kidney disease.

TC: What is the reach of this model so far, in terms of geography?

GL: Because our institute is based in Seattle, we’ve chosen to roll out the program gradually, starting with the Northeast and working our way down. The Raleigh-Durham area in particular seems like a great place to implement our model, especially because of the high concentration of research and health institutes in the area.

TC: What sort of feedback have you received so far from the people targeted by your model?

GL: Keep in mind that we’re still in the beginning stages of implementation. However, we have seen intense interest from the community, everyone from physicians and patients to insurance payers and policy makers. I think this tells us that we’re on the right track. In the short term, about six to twelve months from now, we’ll definitely see more tangible results in the form of personal anecdotes and decreased patient debt, but for now, we can only work further to wrap up the final details of our program.

TC: How does this link to the research that you’ve done here at Duke?

GL: My research at Duke is pretty consistent with the principles of the institution that I’m heading now. I was formerly part of the Comparative Effectiveness and Outcomes Research Program in oncology, which also conducts cost vs. benefit analysis on dozens of different cancer treatment options. I actually plan on moving the research program closer to where I am now, because there’s such a strong correlation between my work now and my work at Duke.