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Oncology Professionals Share Knowledge and Insights via OncoPeer

When oncology professionals in the state of Victoria, Australia, began a statewide implementation of Varian’s RapidPlan® knowledge-based treatment planning software, they turned to the OncoPeer™ online community for mutual support and to share techniques and models.   OncoPeer is a confidential online community where Varian customers can ask questions, share data, exchange treatment techniques, and discuss best practices by collaborating with other oncology professionals from around the world.

Establishing a Statewide Dosimetry Group in Victoria, Australia

“We are using OncoPeer to establish a radiation therapy-specific group of dosimetrists and physicists who are focused on developing and sharing RapidPlan models across the state of Victoria in Australia,” says Colin Hornby, MS, radiotherapy advisor, Cancer Strategy & Development, in Victoria’s Department of Health & Human Services. “Our goal is to improve the quality of radiotherapy treatment by using RapidPlan to predict treatment and plan outcomes and then using these predictions to optimize intensity-modulated radiotherapy plan parameters.”

OncoPeer helped Hornby and his colleagues deploy RapidPlan across the eight public cancer centers in the state that are using Eclipse™ for treatment planning and have also implemented RapidPlan: four are Melbourne sites; three are regional Victorian sites; and one is a rural Victorian site. So far, Hornby’s private OncoPeer group is comprised of 13 members from eight participating sites.  As the project progresses, this number will expand.   Three other locations that do not have Eclipse will be working on ways of using RapidPlan as a benchmarking tool.

Hornby’s Victoria RapidPlan Implementation Group shares protocols and contouring guidelines on a variety of anatomical sites; discussions about dose constraints for targets at risk; preparation guidelines, including protocols for what to do prior to computed tomography (CT) simulation; as well as the models themselves and some training documents they have developed. 

“Being able to download Varian documents once and have them in a common location is making us more efficient,” notes Hornby. “Many health services have a 10MB limit on emails, but by using OncoPeer, we can share documents and training presentations that are more than twice that size. Also, being able to have our models in one location on OncoPeer is so important for future model sharing as staff change.

“In sharing clinical models pertaining to our state, the confidentiality and privacy of OncoPeer has been so important because it has given our clinical team members the confidence they need to fully contribute,” says Hornby.

Philip Moloney, a member of the Victoria RapidPlan Implementation Group, is leading the RapidPlan launch at the Andrew Love Cancer Centre in Geelong, Victoria, where he serves as the clinical and technical leader of Radiotherapy Planning Services. His center is a lead site for the establishment of an anal cancer RapidPlan model, and a supporting site for a radical head & neck cancer model and a prostate cancer model.

“OncoPeer has been an invaluable tool within the Victorian RapidPlan Group. Prior to using this tool, there were a lot of subtle technique variations within our own state, even between departments within close proximity to each other. However, OncoPeer has helped us unite as a team by providing an efficient means of information and idea sharing,” states Moloney. “Although we are in the early phases of RapidPlan implementation, our experiences indicate a significant future for Varian’s knowledge-based planning software in Victoria.”

OncoPeer as Knowledge Source

In addition to RapidPlan implementation, oncology professionals around the world are using OncoPeer as a source of knowledge on topics ranging from IT-related discussions to Eclipse software scripting to equipment upgrades and billing questions.

“I began using OncoPeer because I wanted to collaborate with other oncology and radiotherapy professionals regarding the use of the Eclipse scripting application program interface (API),” says Joseph Bradshaw, dosimetrist at Sheffield Teaching Hospital in the UK. “I was having some issues getting my project up and running and was hoping someone else had similar experience they could share with me.”  

The Eclipse scripting API allows a user to interact with the software in many different ways.  Users have been able to write code for checking whether a plan meets certain requirements and constraints, generating custom reports, or searching through patient records to rapidly pull out specific data for trial and research purposes.

“OncoPeer was a tremendous help in getting the knowledge I needed to successfully launch our scripting project,” says Bradshaw. “While mine is a relatively large department, the knowledge for my project wasn’t readily available. By accessing OncoPeer, I was able to communicate with other individuals in the same profession all over the world. This increased the potential knowledge base dramatically and enabled me to be in contact with users not only in centers throughout the UK but also the United States.”

Barbara Stiltner, chief radiation therapist at Knox Community Hospital in Mount Vernon, Ohio, also uses OncoPeer as a knowledge source. Knox Community Hospital is a small, privately owned hospital with a single linear accelerator. When they began thinking about upgrading to a TrueBeam® system from an earlier-model linac, Stiltner turned to OncoPeer for some guidance as to what machine would best suit her facility. 

“By following different discussion threads, I was able to read about the experiences of colleagues around the world who were using the various Varian systems, including the TrueBeam that we are considering,”says Stiltner. “It was really helpful to see what the system offers and to draw on the experiences of others. I was able to find really good answers to my questions using OncoPeer --  not only about equipment upgrades but also billing questions.”  

Varian established the OncoPeer online community as part of the company’s “Linking Minds” initiative, with the idea that knowledge sharing could help improve the efficiency, quality, and consistency of care in cancer clinics.  Varian customers can access OncoPeer 24-hours a day from anywhere in the world, to exchange knowledge and experience with other clinicians.

"Providing clinicians with resources that enable them to pool knowledge has become an important goal for us, as treatment centers seek ever more effective ways of implementing precise, non-invasive treatments like RapidArc® radiosurgery," said Kolleen Kennedy, president of Varian's Oncology Systems business.  "We developed OncoPeer as a tool to help our customers collaborate, find others who use Varian technology, and learn from one another."

Users of the OncoPeer cloud community can initiate threaded discussions, form open or closed groups, share and comment about uploaded files, create events, monitor trending key words within the community, and sort information by keyword.  Varian is also using the tool to support communication between members of advisory boards who provide feedback on products and services. 

"We're excited about how clinicians are using the resource to help one another," said Sarah Gyatso, manager of the OncoPeer cloud community.  "Shortly after we launched the site, a member posted a question asking for tips when creating radiotherapy treatment plans for prostate cancer patients with bilateral hip replacements.  The user received a detailed answer from an experienced member, who offered specific and actionable advice.  This was a perfect example of the peer-to-peer knowledge exchange that OncoPeer is intended to support."