Chemotherapy planning tool scoops award

Chemotherapy planning tool scoops award
A tool that tackles the problem of chemotherapy capacity planning landed Concentra two BCS Industry Awards in the social and business-to-business categories. The tool, which employs advanced modelling techniques, is used for service improvement and planning, and can simulate scenarios in chemotherapy units. Helen Wilcox reports.

The effective delivery of chemotherapy is a key component in treating cancer speedily. A 2004 government review found imbalances in what drugs were available, and that the adoption of new drugs was slower in the UK than in the rest of Europe.

One of the barriers to consistent use of chemotherapy is the complexity of its delivery. Cancer drugs are complicated to prepare, difficult to administer, and come in many hundreds of treatment 'regimens' - combinations of different drugs in different doses. This makes it difficult for hospitals to monitor which drugs are being used and to plan for the introduction of new ones.

To try and make the use of cancer medicine more uniform, a capacity planning application was built by the Pharmaceutical Oncology Initiative Partnership (POIP) to aid the 33 'cancer networks' - the local and regional delivery teams charged with responsibility for coordinating the delivery of care and the introduction of new cancer drugs. 

This application, called C-PORT (Chemotherapy Planning Oncology Resource Tool), applies advanced modelling techniques to tackle the problem of chemotherapy capacity planning, which has never been done before. It makes use of leading-edge techniques in simulation (Monte Carlo technique, for instance), enabling it to forecast how each individual patient will experience care, how long they wait, who they see, and when. It also creates in simulated form real life events that influence treatment such as equipment breakdowns, phone calls, meetings and absenteeism.

Clinicians and managers can use C-PORT to help work out the impact of a proposed change in clinical practice before it is implemented. It can simulate most scenarios in a unit, so can be used for anything from understanding the impact of changes in numbers and types of patient to mapping the impact of adding new regimens and treatments to changing the way the unit is organised or altering the level of resource available.

The tool is helping managers better process budget requests and business plans, test contingency plans (e.g. an Asian flu outbreak), compare the expected variability of drug usage and resources within and between units and networks, and finally to test and fine-tune the implementation of best practice.

To develop the tool, POIP worked with 26 NHS Cancer Networks in England, and the IT sector. POIP is a partnership between 12 pharmaceutical companies, which are members of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), plus the Department of Health/Cancer Action Team and the NHS/ Cancer Services Collaborative Improvement Partnership (CSCIP). The final team were supported by consultants A.T. Kearney and analytics and software development company Concentra. 

Software details
The custom-made C-Port was built on Microsoft .net with complex simulation logic written in the T-SQL programming language on top of a Microsoft SQL Server 2005 database. The web application runs under Windows 2003 Server with Internet Information Services 6.0.

C-PORT is entirely web-based, so users only require access to a web-browser to use it; it is centrally hosted and supported on a national scale by documentation, training, user groups and a dedicated helpdesk resource.

The tool has been introduced in over 160 hospitals across the UK. The outcomes include:

patients having shorter waiting times on their chemotherapy treatment days, plus improved access to new therapies;
the government getting better visibility on resources and patient mix at national level and a better understanding of variations in drug usage and clinical practices;
the NHS moving towards a more standardised way of evaluating the impact of new drugs, planning resources, business planning and changing working practices; and
pharmaceutical companies benefiting from a new approach to cooperation with the NHS and a more consistent uptake of new cancer beating drugs.