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Bringing proton therapy to pediatric patients

by Lisa Chamoff, Contributing Reporter | March 22, 2021
Rad Oncology Pediatrics Proton Therapy
From the March 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Tiffany Koolakian, administrator of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital, noted that in 2016 and 2017 they started a process improvement project to improve patient access. It resulted in appointing a proton access manager to oversee the referral and intake process, oversee proton rounds and make sure the patients’ and families’ needs are met, so those aspects of care are not put on the physician and their staff.

“Now that we have one person who’s really taken on that role, there’s that nice clean line of making sure the patients are connected to the resources that they need,” Koolakian said.

Mass General Cancer Center also increased access last year by opening a second center, the Gordon-Browne Proton Therapy Center, which doesn’t have a pediatric program but frees up machines at the Francis H. Burr Proton Therapy Center, which opened in 2001, for young patients.

Grace Eline during her treatment.
COVID-19 complicating the financial burden
The financial burden of travel and securing housing has always been an issue, and it has been particularly challenging during the pandemic.

While cancer screening has been down over the past year, Yock of Mass General noted that this has softened patient numbers in the adult population, rather than in pediatrics. Travel and housing have become more complicated to coordinate.

Ronald McDonald House is often a resource for children receiving proton therapy, providing them with a free place to stay, meals and often shuttle service while they’re undergoing treatment. The Ronald McDonald House that serves Mass General uses an apartment model, instead of shared kitchen and bathroom facilities, however they are still governed by COVID-19 safety restrictions from the national organization, such as allowing only one parent and the child undergoing treatment to stay there, with no siblings or parents rotating and no going home on weekends. During the pandemic, the families of many of Mass General's young patients have elected to stay at apartment-style housing run by an organization called Christopher's Haven, which allows siblings to stay there and for parents to take turns if they need to, and lets families return home to nearby states, such as Connecticut and Rhode Island, on weekends, according to Yock.

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