The Importance of Zero-Downtime When Relocating a Linac to a New Cancer Center
Radiation oncology professionals know that equipment downtime is a threat not only to their practice, but also to their patients’ health. One situation with a high risk of downtime is when a radiation oncology center must relocate to a new site. Larger, wealthier hospitals avoid downtime when relocating by simply purchasing brand new equipment for their new site. Only when the new linear accelerators and other equipment systems are commissioned, and when all of the patients are transferred over to the new center, do they shut down the older center. This ensures zero downtime and no loss of patients to competing hospitals.
However, relocating is often more challenging for smaller centers that can’t afford to purchase new equipment for the new site and are forced to relocate their existing equipment. A linear accelerator can take a month or longer to relocate, and this can mean dreaded downtime. However, with planning and creativity, it is possible to avoid downtime without purchasing a new machine.
Linac Downtime Endangers Patients
Radiation therapy requires daily or almost-daily treatment for weeks at a time, and this high frequency of treatment is why it is so effective. Radiation destroys the DNA of cancerous cells at a faster rate than healthy cells, which makes it a powerful weapon in the battle to restore patients’ health. Healthy cells bounce back from radiation faster than cancer cells; by the next day’s treatment, they are already recovering, while the cancer cells are becoming weaker. That makes suspending treatment a dangerous proposition: Even one missed session (fraction) can give cancer cells the respite they need to grow strong again.
Relocating a Linac Threatens Your Practice
Patients can stick to their treatment schedule by completing their appointments at other facilities, but this is an imperfect solution for everyone involved. While patients are busy navigating complex treatment schedules and the symptoms of their cancer, linac downtime disrupts their routines and may force them to travel far out of their way to make their appointments. Meanwhile, facilities lose revenue from the missed sessions, are unable to take new patients, and run a very high risk of patients permanently switching to a new facility.
This is to say nothing of the move itself, which is not trivial. Linacs are massive, weighing over 25,000 pounds (11,340 kg) and standing 8 feet high (2.43 m). They are sensitive and fragile, and moves must be accomplished with utmost care by qualified engineers. That takes time—in most cases, between four and eight weeks, during which the machine is out of commission.
Hospitals and clinics facing relocation know the drawbacks of relocating linacs, but there is usually no obvious workaround. Many handle the situation by either shifting patients to a second machine in their network (if one exists with extra capacity) or renting a portable or modular vault to serve as an interim solution—easily costing more than $1,000,000. While some may consider purchasing a replacement, a brand-new machine is usually cost-prohibitive for a smaller, freestanding cancer center: Today, the cost of a new linear accelerator is well over $2,000,000. And either way, a facility that does not have a second machine available or rented can expect to interrupt patient treatment for several weeks.
Relocating Without Downtime: The No-Cost Solution
More and more facilities are recognizing that another option exists: selling their existing linac and purchasing a refurbished one. In some cases, the revenue from the sale of the old machine can cover the cost of purchasing, shipping, and installing a refurbished machine, meaning a seamless transition at no cost and with no downtime. ROS has found that even when our clients have highly specific configuration requirements or need a rare machine design, it is possible to find a refurbished version on the domestic or international markets, often nearly identical to their existing setup.
Buying a refurbished system does not necessarily mean purchasing dated technology. The used equipment market is large and diverse, and it includes many newer machines with the newest features. Even older machines are often upgraded during the refurbishment process with platforms developed for used systems.
About Radiology Oncology Systems
Radiology Oncology Systems, headquartered in San Diego, California, provides medical equipment solutions to customers worldwide, including hospitals, clinics, veterinary practices, OEMs, and other equipment and service providers. ROS specializes in CT, MRI, nuclear medicine, linear accelerator, and oncology equipment, and also provides related upgrades, products, services and accessories. Radiology Oncology Systems is a US distributor of PixelShine Deep Learning Imaging Software for CTs, Hermes Molecular Imaging Software, and MacroMedics patient immobilization devices.