Improving Access to Quality Cancer Care using Operations Research Methods

Radiotherapy is used for curative and palliative (symptom relief) purposes for patients with cancer, with 30 to 40% of patients receiving radiotherapy during some point in their illness. Wait times for radiotherapy have been shown to lead to poorer outcomes for those treated as part of curative treatment, and to increased suffering for those treated for palliative reasons. Wait times occur either because of equipment and/or staff shortages, or due to resources not being used in the most optimal manner. Demand for radiotherapy fluctuates over time, leading to unpredictable surges in demand that are difficult to meet in a timely fashion.

Dr. Scott Tyldesley is working to improve understand of the root causes of the fluctuation in demand for radiotherapy, and to develop approaches to predict and address demands. He, and his colleagues, are creating a detailed model of the radiotherapy system, which will allow him to simulate current cancer patient flow, and to test proposed improvements to the system. Development of the model will also allow the group to explore how the radiotherapy system can improve how it forecasts demand for services, and how it deploys its resources. These results will be tested in system-wide models and then considered for implementation at the BC Cancer Agency (BCCA). The research team is a unique collaboration between specialists in operations research from the Sauder School of Business at UBC and clinical decision-makers and administrators from BCCA. The results of Tyldesley’s research will directly affect clinical practice for patients with cancer and be transferable to other health care environments.