ASTRO Conference 2013: Where Is the Energy?

Kirk Ising recaps his experience at the 55th Annual ASTRO Meeting 

I was lucky enough to attend this year’s ASTRO conference a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta. It was great to be among so many professionals, both vendors and providers, who are committed to saving lives and, equally as important, preserving the quality of life for cancer survivors.

As I attend trade shows I always try to “feel” where the energy is. At ASTRO I felt the most energy around treatment planning. RaySearch had demo stations for their solution, and I noticed those stations were constantly full. Elekta, Varian, and Philips were all talking about new features in upcoming releases. It was great to see and hear about the improved workflow that is coming with better tools to help implement the best plans quicker. Varian specifically discussed building best-plans functionality that therapists and physicists can use as a starting point. If treatment plans really can happen quicker and be better, I think that the excitement and energy at ASTRO will be truly warranted, which is great news for users who feel their systems have been neglected.

There also seemed to be energy at ASTRO around proton therapy, despite the recent news about coverage. IBA was showing off their collaboration with Philips on a more patient-friendly room experience. ProNova, who is working on their first install, has an interesting solution that uses superconducting magnets to direct the particles. Mevion is still telling an upbeat story despite being so far behind in the implementation process at Washington University; the people at WashU say they are getting really close. While $50 million (which is the general cost for a small system) sure is better than $250 million, I still wonder how many people will be able to justify one treatment room that costs the same as 10 photon systems.

I didn’t see a lot of buzz around photon systems themselves, but several options for managing patient motion seemed to be receiving a fair amount of energy. The most promise may be with respiratory gating. The ability to turn the beam on or off with the patient’s breathing in real time can have a huge impact on the accuracy of some treatments. It made me wonder whether providers were seeing success with third-party motion-management, or gating, tools or even with the solutions being packaged with the therapy systems themselves. This may be an area that KLAS investigates next year.

I have attended many other healthcare shows, but there is a different type of energy at ASTRO. Cancer touches almost all of us in one way or another. It is not just the providers contributing to the energy. The vendors, even though they are competing with each other, share a common purpose with the providers that was summed up well in the theme of this year’s conference: Hope • Guide • Heal.

For more information on the vendors mentioned in this post, check out the 2013Best in KLAS : Medical Equipment and Infrastructure report.

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