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Massey researcher evaluates health care delivery systems in an effort to improve cancer patient outcomes and reduce costs

Nov 29, 2017


Askar Chukmaitov, M.D., Ph.D., evaluates innovations in health care delivery systems as a means to decrease mortality rates, enhance quality of life and reduce medical costs for cancer patients.

He joined VCU Massey Cancer Center as a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program in June 2017 and is an associate professor of health behavior and policy at the VCU School of Medicine.

Chukmaitov researches ways to better inform clinicians, physicians, hospital administrators and health care policy makers on what health care delivery innovations are most effective and what types of providers and their characteristics can improve patient outcomes.

He previously received a $747,000 grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to study hospitals that participate in Medicare Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) to determine how the quality and cost of care differ from organizations that do not. ACOs are groups of doctors, hospitals and integrated delivery systems that voluntarily join together to provide high-quality care and lower cost to Medicare patients.

Using this grant funding, he and a team of collaborators were able to construct unique panel data sets that include information from hospitals in 18 states over a six-year period. Chukmaitov hopes to specifically extend this research to cancer treatment facilities in an effort to enhance outcomes and minimize costs for cancer patients.

“Cancer spending is growing, and there have been efforts to reduce it. Through innovative health care delivery systems, there is a potential to contain costs but at the same time maintain or even improve the quality of care for patients,” Chukmaitov explained.

Having previously studied the impacts of colonoscopies on patient outcomes through a Massey pilot grant, Chukmaitov believes that examining health care delivery innovations for colorectal cancer patients would make sense as a starting point for his future research because colonoscopies have been proven to be successful in the early diagnosis and prevention of colon cancer, but polypectomy (the removal of a cancerous polyp) practices are inconsistent across providers in the U.S.

“A substantial gap in clinical guidelines for gastroenterologists exists because of a lack of empirical evidence about comparative effectiveness of different polypectomy options, and clinical trials are not often feasible due to cost, methodological and ethical issues. I want to investigate whether electronic health records data can be used for studying and improving effectiveness of outpatient colonoscopy with polypectomy,” said Chukmaitov, who hopes to develop a research proposal for the National Cancer Institute.

Along with Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., associate director for disparities research and co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control program at Massey, Chukmaitov collaborates internationally with the Kazakh National Research Institute of Oncology and Radiology to study breast cancer, using an electronic cancer research data registry from Kazakhstan. Their findings were published in the Journal of Global Oncology.

In addition, Chukmaitov leads the VCU School of Medicine – Kazakh National Medical University Partnership and the Bolashak International Scholarship Program at VCU.

Chukmaitov grew up in Almaty City, the capital of Kazakhstan that was part of the Soviet Union before its dissolution in 1991. His parents were both physicians, and his grandfather, Saken Nugmanov, was an oncologist and the founding director of the Kazakh National Research Institute of Oncology and Radiology.  

“It’s really difficult to try and fill his shoes,” Chukmaitov said of his grandfather, who grew up in an orphanage, attended medical school, enlisted as a surgeon in the Soviet Army during World War II, achieved a Ph.D. and was a founding director of a national cancer center “that is an equivalent of the National Cancer Institute in the U.S.”

Chukmaitov graduated from the Kazakhstan National Medical University with a medical degree during a time when the country was experiencing a severe economic crisis after collapse of the USSR.

“It was sad to practice medicine back then. We lacked basic tools and equipment, and patients had to actually bring in their own medicine. I was kind of appalled by that and thought something needed to be done about healthcare system and policy,” Chukmaitov said.

He began working on a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development that aimed to reform the health care delivery system in Kazakhstan. While working on this project, Chukmaitov developed a strong interest in health care policy and research, specifically that of the United States.

Chukmaitov applied for a U.S.-funded study abroad fellowship and attended the University of Nebraska Omaha to earn a master’s degree in public administration. He moved back to Kazakhstan to work for the Ministry of Health before returning to the U.S. in 2001 to earn a Ph.D. in health services research from VCU.

He was then a faculty member at the Florida State University College of Medicine and the director of the Center on Global Health at Florida State University, and came back to VCU as a faculty member in health behavior and policy.

“One of the reasons I came back to VCU is the link to Massey. My overall research interest is in improving the quality of care and outcomes for patients. I wanted to extend that to cancer patients,” Chukmaitov said.

Additionally, Chukmaitov is a member of the Global Health Educational Consortium and AcademyHealth. He has contributed as a reviewer for 11 peer-reviewed journals and has had his own research published in 34 journals, including Diseases of the Colon and Rectum, Gastrointestinal Endoscopy and Health Services Research.

He lives with his wife, nine-year-old daughter and four-month-old son in Chesterfield. As a soccer fan, Chukmaitov competes in several recreational leagues around Richmond and roots for the Richmond Kickers locally and Chelsea F.C. internationally.

Chukmaitov also enjoys the film “The Godfather", and listening to The Beatles and classical music.

Written by: Blake Belden

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