CHAPEL HILL – A new book co-authored by faculty in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine Department of Radiation Oncology details initiatives launched in Chapel Hill to maximize radiation therapy safety.
The book, “Engineering Patient Safety in Radiation Oncology: University of North Carolina’s Pursuit for High Reliability and Value Creation,” was co-authored by department chair Larry Marks, MD, a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Sidney K. Simon Distinguished Professor of Oncology Research, and Lukasz Mazur, PhD, an assistant professor in the radiation oncology department and an adjunct assistant professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
The book describes strategies implemented in the department to “engineer” an environment that minimizes the risk of error in radiation treatment. It draws on safety and reliability principles used in industries such as commercial aviation, nuclear energy and car manufacturing.
“Advances in radiation oncology technology have made things a lot safer, but they can also add more complexity,” Marks said. “Unforeseen problems can arise in complex systems. We are engineering the workplace and the environment to minimize the likelihood that those problems arise.”
In addition to Marks and Mazur, the book’s other co-authors were Bhishamjit S. Chera, MD, a UNC Lineberger member, assistant professor in the radiation oncology department, and the department’s director of patient safety and quality; and Robert Adams, EdD, assistant professor in department and director of UNC’s radiation therapy and medical dosimetry education programs.
In the book, Marks and colleagues describe strategies that involve the physical work space, administration, and staff. It builds off of the engineering backgrounds of both Marks and Mazur, the book’s two primary authors.
“Engineering is a relatively exact, quantitative approach to things,” Marks said. “If you want to monitor processes, and you want to improve things, you’ve got to find out what the metrics are, you’ve got to have a formal way to report problems, and a formal way to respond to those problems.”
Mazur has a doctorate in industrial and management engineering from Montana State University. Marks studied chemical engineering at Cooper Union before getting his medical degree from the University of Rochester. He did his residency training in radiation oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Before coming to UNC, he was on the faculty for 19 years at Duke University, where he led the quality assurance committee for radiation oncology.
Marks, Mazur and Chera were also co-authors of an article on safety in clinical oncology that was published online Thursday in the journal JAMA Oncology.