A hospital in East Anglia has installed an electronic cancer management system in its oncology department, which is designed to bring greater efficiency, greater patient throughput and reduced waiting times. Until now, the software has not been available in Europe.

The Colney Centre at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is using VARiS MedOncology from Varian Medical Systems, which features electronic chemotherapy prescribing, safety tools and pharmacy dispensing all linked up to a patient record, as well as the ability to collect and analyse research data through clinical trial participation.

The radiotherapy department has been made fully paperless, and work is underway to integrate chemotherapy. Professor Ann Barrett, lead oncology clinician at the Colney Centre, said that the software was already showing benefits: “The protocols for treatment are all in the system; you do not have to work out every specific regimen, you just click on the appropriate fields and they work them out for you. VARiS MedOncology will also feed information into the centre’s results database."

The hospital was chosen to be the early European adopters of the software as its staff have often beta-tested Varian products. However, the MedOncology system in use is a full version of the software.

The software also features reporting and statistical tracking systems. Professor Barrett said that she found the tools very flexible: “You can set up a report based on a whole host of criteria – how many patients we have treated, with which drug, what type of cancer, how many patients each doctor has treated each month, how the patients are responding, whether we wasted any chemo treatments because the patient didn’t turn up, and so on. It’s a wonderful auditing tool. In addition, we know precisely where everybody is in the system at any time."

The reporting system is fully expandable for use with NPfIT and the data spine as it conforms to HL7 standards. Varian software expert Steve Laws explained that “we have an interfacing team to do nothing but write interfacing code."

The database can be expanded for schemes such as Payment By Results. Laws added: “You are able to build your own form onto the application for additional data items. When you build forms you can then slot them into the patient plan so they can be in the right place." Because the software is customisable, continuous updates to keep up with new initiatives are less necessary.

The system was originally developed by healthcare software development company OpTx. Varian formally acquired OpTx in April, but had been licensing its MedOncology software since 2001. Laws said that Varian’s “stated objective is to be a provider of built technology solutions for treating cancer" and that IT was an integral part of this.