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Patients with cancer now can see a 3-D preview of their radiation treatment

OHSU is the first in the nation to implement a virtual simulation tool into its clinical care program to help patients better understand, ask questions before procedures
Virtual Environment Radiotherapy Training
Radiation therapist Estel Hayes runs through a virtual simulation (VERT™) presentation prepared for prostate cancer patients at Tuality/OHSU Cancer Center. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

By 2020, the number of patients receiving radiation therapy as part of their initial treatment course is expected to increase by 22 percent, from 470,000 to 575,000 patients per year, according to the American Cancer Society. With this in mind, the Tuality/OHSU Cancer Center in Hillsboro, Oregon, now is offering a simulation tool to give patients a “virtual preview” of their planned treatment.

Virtual Environment Radiotherapy Training, or VERT™, displays 3-D images and simulations to teach radiation therapy and medical physics students about administering radiation therapy to patients. OHSU has been using this technology in its interprofessional education training programs since 2016.

Virtual Environment Radiotherapy Training
OHSU Radiation Therapy Program student Daryn Baker moves the virtual machine into place using an iPad. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

Now the Tuality/OHSU Cancer Center is using VERT™ to allow patients and their families to see, hear and understand what treatment will be like.

Kristi Tonning, M.S., R.T.
Kristi Tonning, M.S., R.T.

“Radiation therapy can be a scary thing for patients,” said Kristi Tonning, M.S., R.T., director of the Radiation Therapy Program, OHSU School of Medicine, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. “By utilizing VERT™ as an educational tool before treatment, we can show the patient and family what to expect, and what happens during treatment, to help alleviate concerns. This is a pertinent example of truly patient-centered care where we can reduce potential apprehension with a 20-minute virtual simulation experience.”

The virtual simulation (VERT™) technology will help simplify patient education and avoid misconceptions, which has been a challenge due to the vast amount of information, explained Tonning, who led the effort to bring this technology to patients.

Charles Thomas Jr., M.D.
Charles Thomas Jr., M.D.

“This simulation will help de-mystify radiation treatment for patients,” said Charles Thomas Jr., M.D., professor and chair of radiation medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, and chair of the radiation oncology program, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. “No one else in our area is doing this. We have the only radiation therapy training program in Oregon, and one of the few in the Pacific Northwest. The VERT™ collaboration between OHSU and our partners at Tuality for patient education, is a fine example of interprofessional practice. We are sharing information across specialties and interests, creating an ideal scenario for patients being treated by these exceptional OHSU and Tuality professionals.”

Al Miller is currently receiving radiation treatment at the Tuality/OHSU Cancer Center for his prostate cancer. He was one of the first to view the VERT™ session and said the simulation helped him understand what his treatment process would entail: “Watching this video, you get a layer by layer look at everything, and you realize how this is all going to take place. I really believe this was the missing link in terms of prepping for my treatment. This simulation helped me immensely, and I hope that everyone who needs it gets to see it.”

“We are pleased to offer this informative program that broadens the understanding of radiation therapy for the patient, and also for their family members who support them,” said Tina Dickerson, R.T., chief therapist and manager of the Tuality/OHSU Cancer Center. “Our daily focus is on the patient and their well-being through a course of treatment. It is our hope that the VERT™ education session will help ease any concern or anxiety related to the process of radiation therapy.”

The virtual simulation (VERT™) session provided by the radiation therapists is offered to all prostate cancer patients at no additional cost. OHSU/Tuality has plans to expand the program to include additional cancer specialties, including breast, head and neck, and sarcoma. 

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