Swansea Bay patients with a breast cancer diagnosis will be among the first in the world to get faster access to radiotherapy thanks to pioneering digital technology.
The new digital intelligent patient management solution is being designed to cut the time from consultant referral to delivery of the first dose from the current standard of six weeks to as little as two weeks, ensuring that patients who need urgent cancer care receive it as soon as possible.
The South West Wales Cancer Centre (SWWCC) at Singleton Hospital is developing the IntelliSpace Radiation Oncology solution in partnership with technology giant Philips and six cancer centres across the world, including the US and Europe.
Head of Clinical Technology Doug Etheridge said: “This new solution looks at the workflow process from consent to treatment to actually delivering the first fraction (dose).
“The ultimate goal is to try to automate and streamline the process as much as you possibly can.”
More than half of all cancer types can be treated with radiotherapy, often in combination with surgery and chemotherapy.
Various studies have shown that, in general, the faster the access to radiotherapy treatment the better the outcomes for patients.
But the process from referral for radiotherapy through treatment planning to delivery is a long and labour-intensive one, sometimes involving up to a dozen separate computer systems and numerous staff.
All of the various steps, including deciding exactly where the treatment will be targeted on the body (contouring), dose planning and appointment booking are done manually.
Some data input is also repetitive. For example, the consultant’s prescription, which lays out what they want to treat and how, has to be inputted four times.
Head of Radiotherapy Physics Dr Ryan Lewis said: “We have worked really hard over the last few years to streamline the current patient pathway. We are completely paperless, all treatments are electronically prescribed, and we have as lean and efficient a system as possible with the current technology we have.
“This new development agreement with Philips will offer opportunities to further improve our ongoing drive to make our cancer services even better.”
The IntelliSpace Radiation Oncology solution will wrap around the existing systems allowing them to talk to one another, which means data will only have to be inputted once.
It will also automate certain parts of the process, including some of the treatment planning and handovers between staff, resulting in an increase in speed and consistency.
Dr Russell Banner, Clinical Oncologist and Radiotherapy Lead SWWCC, took part in the European launch of IntelliSpace Radiation Oncology at the European Society for Radiation Oncology’s annual meeting in Milan in April.
During a presentation on the solution he said there was universal frustration among consultants about the large number of IT systems they had to work in to deliver radiotherapy treatment.
He cited one NHS consultant who used social media to vent his frustration about the 16 computer systems he has to log into to plan a patient’s treatment.
But the patient management tool will automatically log in to the next computer system in the process, taking the doctor straight to the information they need.
Dr Banner said: “This new solution should help our patients directly by improving their experience and decreasing their time to treatment.
“It will also help them by helping us as clinicians to consistently treat every patient to the highest quality levels, aiming to replicate the benefits we see when we treat patients in protocolised clinical trials.
“It should help us sit down to plan patients at the right time, in the right electronic space.
“Furthermore, it will allow us to manage our workflows within our department, seeing where patients are within the often complex treatment pathways.”
As part of the development of the solution, the SWWCC radiation oncology team has taken part in workshops with Philips where they have examined the pathway breast cancer patients take to treatment and worked on making the process as efficient as possible.
Their input and other ideas for how the solution should work are being incorporated into the software.
“By integrating all of the steps in the radiotherapy department’s workflow into one platform, IntelliSpace Radiation Oncology is designed to improve communication, provide crucial patient information more quickly, and harmonize ways of working across clinical teams, improving the consistency of care they provide for the best possible patient results,” said Simon McGuire, Health Systems Leader UKI, Philips.
“Each step of the patient’s journey is captured, providing a strong basis for automating workflows, enhancing efficiency and operational excellence.”
Doug said: “Everyone is involved and this will benefit the whole process.
“The ultimate benefit to the patient will be that they get treatment a lot quicker. Every single treatment will still be customized for each patient, but it is taking some of the people out of the process.”
The SWWCC medical physics department is the first in the world to have received the first release of the solution which is still in a basic form.
It will receive more advanced versions as the patient management tool is further developed and hope to start putting breast cancer patients through the new system in the autumn.