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July 16, 2012

UVA reduces weeks of cancer treatments to less than a day

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Cancer treatments for tumors that have spread to bone typically span weeks, but the University of Virginia Health System is streamlining those treatment courses into a single day – and eventually less than an hour – as part of a revolutionary new approach to cancer care.

Built on nimble responses to patient needs, the groundbreaking new approach will provide much-needed tools to rapidly identify changes in patient condition. This will allow for early interventions that improve patient outcomes and quality of life while reducing health-care costs.

The effort, spearheaded by Paul Read, MD, PhD, already has been recognized as an important new model for cancer care, winning more than $2.5 million in federal backing from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Keys to better cancer care

The three components of Read’s new approach:

A comprehensive database, called MyCourse , will continually track patients’ health and emotional well-being. The database will provide doctors throughout the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center with the latest information on each patient, helping them work together quickly and effectively to determine the best courses of treatment. A supportive care and pain management team will implement a new care process, one built on early interventions and rapid responses to patient needs. “ The goal for this palliative care team is to keep people out of the hospital ,” Read says. “They’re going to help people have the best quality of life possible.” A transformative, streamlined approach to radiation oncology will provide patients whose cancer has spread to bone with one-day treatments that are convenient, effective, less toxic and less expensive than traditional treatment courses spread over weeks. “The radiation program, I think, is a world-caliber change in how we’re approaching cancer care,” Read says. “Our treatments are going to be very elegant. So from a radiation perspective, this is very novel.”

Improving quality of life

Leslie Blackhall, MD, is the clinical leader of the supportive care and pain management team implementing the new care process, which Read calls CARE Track (short for Comprehensive Assessment with Rapid Evaluation and Treatment). Blackhall says the new model will benefit both patients and their families by tracking patients’ symptoms at each visit and providing rapid response with a multidisciplinary team including palliative care, social work and other supportive care services. This, she expects, will lead to better patient outcomes and reduce the load on caregivers. “Reducing pain and other symptoms improves quality of life and may also help extend life,” she notes.

“It’s very exciting,” Blackhall says of UVA’s new approach. “All of us feel that this will allow us to provide the full range of services our patients need.”

New jobs and advanced cancer treatment

Over the next three years, the program is expected to train 65 workers and create three new jobs. As part of the infrastructure investment, UVA Health System will become one of the first institutions in the world to obtain new, leading-edge upgrades to the TomoTherapy™ System – one of the world’s most advanced radiation treatment systems – that will facilitate the proposed rapid treatment process.

A national model for advanced cancer

By streamlining treatments, improving monitoring and overhauling the care process, UVA can respond to cancer patients’ needs more effectively than ever before, Read says. And he’s already hearing from colleagues at other top hospitals who are excited by his innovations. “All of it is a new model for managing patients with advanced cancer,” Read says. “We think patients are really going to benefit from having this kind of coordinated, team-based multidisciplinary approach.”

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