When a proton therapy center draws cancer patients from hundreds of miles away, it’s easy to lose track of them two or three years after treatment. And that severed connection means oncologists lose access to critical data about the long-term health and quality of life experienced by these proton therapy patients.
Are patients still cancer-free? Is their quality of life as good as or better than conventionally treated cancer survivors? Have they experienced any secondary cancers or any treatment side effects? These all-important measures, that affect physician referrals, standards of care and reimbursement, don’t have to go unanswered simply because of time and distance.
For James Metz, M.D., the Internet bridges time and distance for so many things, so, why not use it for long-term follow up with proton therapy patients and their families? The largest proton therapy center in the world begins treating patients in fall 2009. From the first day, Metz and his peers want to ensure consistent patient self-reporting from initial treatment through remission and into the cancer-free years. To do so, they’ll be using a web-based patient reporting tool developed by VisionTree Software of San Diego, California. VisionTree’s palette of software products includes VisionTree Optimal Care, a secure web-accessed health information management system that collects and stores patient health records, consent forms, reminders, doctor-patient messages, instructions and outcomes data.
The program has been utilized by patients and practitioners at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California; Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan; and many other health care facilities. “Many proton therapy centers lose their ability to follow up regularly with patients over the long-term, particularly those patients who have traveled very long distances for treatment,” says Metz, a radiation oncologist at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Metz is a member of the team organizing the treatment systems at the nearby Roberts Proton Therapy Center. “By using VisionTree, we can follow patient symptoms, side effects and quality of life much longer and with greater regularity than we could before.”
At least 3,000 cancer patients a year are expected to be treated at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center. VisionTree’s Internet-based software has won raves from many of the nearly 100,000 patients who have used the tool to access their health records, answer regular health assessments and communicate directly with their physicians. “There’s big potential down the road for linking the clinical data being collected by several proton therapy centers assessing common protocols,” Metz adds. “A tool like VisionTree will allow for a much higher degree of multi-center collaboration,” he says. “It’s going to allow for proton therapy clinical trials to be done better, collecting patient data that can demonstrate efficacy, improved quality of life — and value to our health care system.”