Is rural radiation oncology practice quality as good as the big smoke? Results of the Australian radiotherapy single machine unit trial

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SUMMARYRadiotherapy utilization rates in rural Australia are suboptimal, with one solution being the building of single machine units (SMUs). One concern raised with such an approach is the quality of care delivered in SMUs. The Australian and Victorian governments have established two SMUs in the state of Victoria, with each SMU operated as a satellite service of a major ‘hub’ site. We report on the planned evaluation of practice quality. Radiation oncologist (RO) clinical practice was externally audited using the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists Peer Review Audit instrument. This tool splits RO clinical practice into documentation/quality assurance (QA) criteria and decision-making criteria. Over the four sites, 130 patients were randomly selected for audit. At hub sites, 79.6% of all criteria audited were adequate, compared with 84.4% of criteria audited at SMUs (P = 0.0002). This difference was largely because of better adherence to documentation/QA criteria at the SMU sites. RO decision-making and protocol adherence were routinely very high and consistent with other clinical practice audits. There were no significant differences between hubs and SMUs for adherence to decision-making criteria; however, the few potential deficiencies in patient care identified occurred only at the hub sites. In at least one of these cases, potential suboptimal management was as a direct result of inadequate documentation. This audit found that SMUs provide as high a standard of radiotherapeutic care as larger hub departments. The findings also emphasize the need for all departments to target clinical documentation.

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