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Sauder School of Business professor Martin Puterman will receive $100,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to further develop a decision support tool for chemotherapy appointment scheduling.
 
Since its launch 2010 by the BC Cancer Agency at its Vancouver Centre, Chemo SmartBook has reduced the number of patients who receive fewer than seven days’ notice of an appointment by 58 per cent and decreased the number of waitlisted patients by 84 per cent.  

The SmartBook employs mathematical optimization techniques similar to those driving the complex schedules of airlines and manufacturing companies. Its computer-based system automatically assigns patients to nurses, balances workloads, alerts pharmacists of daily schedules and meets patient appointment preferences. An easy to use web-based interface allows schedulers to arrange and communicate appointments, often immediately after chemotherapy is prescribed.

These innovations replaced a daunting paper-based scheduling system that was previously in place a the BC Cancer Agency Vancouver Centre, which required clerks to arrange more than 60 appointments a day, while keeping in mind the mixing of drugs, the balancing of workloads and the availability of equipment.

“In a large percentage of cases, patients were being notified as little as one day in advance of their appointments,” says Prof. Puterman, who first identified the need for the project while navigating the treatment process with his wife, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I wanted to help reduce patient stress by letting them know well in advance when to expect their chemotherapy and I knew we had the skill in operations research at Sauder to work with the BC Cancer Agency to make it happen,” continues Prof. Puterman, who teaches operations and logistics at Sauder and is the research director at the UBC Centre for Health Care Management.

The BC Cancer Agency Vancouver Centre delivers 15,000 chemotherapy treatments to more than 2,000 patients each year. With this large and growing client base, clinicians were aware of the need to streamline their scheduling processes.

They welcomed Puterman’s 2009 proposal to have Masters of Management in Operations Research students tackle the challenge as an Industry Project arranged by Sauder’s Centre for Operations Excellence.  The students, along with faculty, graduates and post-doctoral fellows, worked closely with BC Cancer Agency staff to create a system that decreases administrative duties and increases time for patient care.

“It's very rare for a business school to affect medical practice in such a significant way,” says Puterman. “But through this collaboration, we demonstrated that what we do at Sauder can have a major impact on challenges facing Canada’s healthcare system.”

The project has been presented internationally to academic and healthcare audiences, including Stanford University, the University of Michigan, Mayo Clinic, and the University of Chicago Medical Center. The Sauder-BC Cancer Agency team is hoping to extend the system to all five of the BC Cancer Agency regional cancer centres across B.C. and explore how it can be implemented in other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States.