Radiation Oncology Department celebrates major achievement

May 2, 2023  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees, , ,

Approximately a 3-minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Every day, approximately 130 patients with cancer receive treatment from Michigan Medicine radiation therapists.
  • The team’s main focus is on safe patient care, which aligns with the ‘S’ (safety and quality) priority in U-M Health’s BASE strategic priorities. 
  • This focus has led to a milestone of more than 1,000 days without a safety event. That’s approximately 84,000 accurate treatments completed in a row.

In the Michigan Medicine Radiation Oncology Department, 24 radiation therapists deliver therapy treatments to approximately 130 patients with cancer daily.

Treatment is delivered using linear accelerators, which are large machines (shown in the photos above) that deliver external beam radiation to help kill cancer. The accelerators are used to irradiate cancerous tumors with complex, patient-specific treatment plans that minimize damage to healthy tissue near the target.

It’s imperative that radiation therapists operate the machines with precision because patient outcomes are at stake if prescribed radiation treatment is not delivered accurately.

Achieving record-breaking numbers

The radiation oncology team maintains a strong focus on safe patient care, which aligns with the ‘S’ (safety and quality) priority in U-M Health’s BASE strategic priorities. This focus has led to plenty of success in treating cancer patients.

In fact, the team has been so successful in their operations that it has now been over 1,000 days since the last wrong iso/target event. This means that each radiation therapy treatment has been delivered with submillimeter precision for nearly three years.

Over the 1,000+-day period, there were over 80,000 treatment appointments completed. That equates to approximately 84,000 accurate treatments delivered. 

“This is particularly amazing considering this team often works in very complex situations, which often includes caring for someone in severe pain, with very limited ability to tolerate positioning for radiation treatment,” said Chris Alcala M.B.A., BSRT(T), chief radiation therapist at Michigan Medicine. “Often, the team is provided narrow time frames to precisely target the intended treatment area.”

 Utilizing safety in every treatment

If radiation treatment can be so complex, how does this incredible feat happen? According to Alcala, it’s due to a safety-first mentality.

“We developed and implemented a checklist policy over 10 years ago that we follow for every patient,” said Alcala. “We conduct a huddle before every treatment. We do second checks, perform timeouts and verifications, and maintain use of all communications-based high reliability methods. These protocols have been in place for a long time and are integral to our success.”

The team utilizes nearly all HRO skills and tools, but important to this work are the three-way repeat back verifications, cross-checks and routine clarifying questions. These skills and tools help to ensure no details are missed so that patients are being treated correctly and safely.

Gaining more than just recognition

Because of such a strong passion for safety, patients have given a great amount of trust to the team when it comes to their cancer treatment. Alcala noted that building a strong rapport with patients is a key part of the safety program.

“It helps mitigate risk when the people we care for trust us,” he said. “We are proud to be a part of this team because people come seeking high-quality care and that’s what we provide. We strive to be the leaders and the best.”