“The medical physicist often has the best grasp of the most appropriate technologies that should be applied to clinical issues, but many administrators do not understand their skills and value,” says AAPM President
Visibility and value — these words represent the core of the 58th annual meeting of the American Association of Medical Physicists (AAPM), July 31 to Aug. 4 in Washington, D.C. The meeting is expected to be a call for action to enhance visibility and prowess in the medical profession and in research venues.
“The medical physicist often has the best grasp of the most appropriate technologies that should be applied to clinical issues, but many administrators do not understand their skills and value,” says AAPM President Bruce H. Curran, MEng, FAAPM, FACMP. “They perceive the medical physicist solely as a position with a large salary. We need to step up and be present in hospital committees where our knowledge and skills will be appreciated by administrators.”
“Risk management is a good example,” adds Curran, associate professor of radiation oncology at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Health System in Richmond, Virginia. “In many departments, it is the medical physicist who drives quality and safety committees, root cause analyses, and the implementation of safety policies — but this is not often recognized by senior hospital administers.”
The Take-Home: Get Involved
To increase visibility and communicate importance to hospital administrators, Curran suggests getting involved with the radiation oncology department’s budget. “Having a strong knowledge of the healthcare financing in addition to treatment technologies makes for a powerful incentive for administrators to include medical physicists in major program and technology decisions,” he says.
In addition, he says medical physicists tend to avoid tumor boards and medically focused radiology and radiation oncology department meetings, instead concentrating on their work and the science itself. This needs to change, he urges, as medical physicists need to establish a presence at faculty, staff, and administrative meetings where their input is of value. Teams that include a medical physicist are often more effective at identifying better treatment techniques, research approaches, and methods to improve quality and safety, Curran adds.
Medical physicists also should avoid bias when recommending purchases, he stresses. Such decisions must be based on the department’s clinical needs, along with fair representations of the risks and benefits of a specific vendor or technology. Medical physicists must be proactive in dispelling opinions by administrators that they are too closely aligned to individual vendors.
As for whether patients are aware of the work, value or even existence of a medical physicist in a radiology or radiation oncology department, Curran acknowledges that like radiologists, medical physicists are often not visible compared to other physicians and clinical staff, and patients only occasionally interact with them during their diagnostic or treatment procedures.
“We need to market the importance of medical physicists in making sure the most effective imaging or treatment technologies are delivered to the patient in the safest manner,” he told ARO. “Patients should be asking if a medical physicist has been involved in the development of technologies and their use in the patient’s medical care.”
As stated in his president’s message on regarding AAPM 2016, “We are losing or have lost our place as key players on the diagnosis and treatment teams, often relegated to the role of technicians in the eyes of our colleagues and administrators. This is true in academic/research arenas as well,” says Curran. “We need to reverse these trends in order to survive and thrive.”
Meeting attendees will hear the first steps toward the theme “Communicating Our Value, Improving Our Future” throughout the conference, notably in the President’s Symposium on inspiring leadership, and a symposium on the medical physicist value proposition.
New Radiomics Track
Conference-goers will also find scientific sessions and poster presentations describing cutting-edge innovations and research, as well as a new track in the symposia, scientific session and educational course lineups: radiomics. This area comes directly from quantitative imaging and computer-aided diagnosis, both highly relevant to medical physics, says Maryellen L. Giger, PhD, co-director of the radiomics track.
“Many medical physicists who developed methods for computer-aided diagnosis work in radiomics. Radiomics, the high-throughput conversion of image data to mineable data, is an old field with a new name,” describes Dr. Giger, professor of radiology and vice-chair for basic science research in the Department of Radiology, University of Chicago. “For this data to be useful, it needs to be robust across imaging systems and across sites. Thus, the expertise of the medial physicist in standardizing imaging is quite valuable.
“Specifically, their expertise in image analysis, computing, and dealing with big data stemming from medical physicists’ involvement in the development of quantitative imaging and computer-aided diagnosis is essential to the growth of radiomics,” adds Dr. Giger.
The radiomics sessions will cover a wide range of topics and levels of expertise, and newcomers will learn about the field, and its relationship to and evolution from computer-aided diagnosis. Sessions will discuss issues related to big data and the problem of small datasets, and the association with clinical, molecular, histopathologic, and genomic data. Parallels with genomics research will be discussed, as well as radiomics’ relationship to prognosis, responses to therapy, and risk of recurrence. Sessions will also cover new opportunities, challenges and translation to clinical trials and clinical practice, she says.
Additionally, the professional symposium track offers pragmatic and diversified topics such as HAZMAT training; preparation for ABR diagnostic, nuclear medicine and therapy exams; ACR maintenance certification; professional liability insurance, and financial perspectives related to publishing. Members of the Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise-Radiation Oncology (IHE-RO) Committee are providing a 2-hour update on activities as well. And another international professional symposium describes global efforts on patient dose reduction in diagnostic radiology, summarizing initiatives in Australia, Europe, and the United States, and offering an overview of radiation doses used in 50 developing countries.
The 2016 science council session topic is imaging for particle therapy, with four of 12 presentations covering the use of CT with proton therapy. The ePoster Theatre hosts the Best in Physics poster presentations in imaging, therapy and joint imaging therapy. And not to be overlooked are Sessions of Note from the president, which can be accessed here