Business students help doctors fight cancer

May 13, 2004, vol. 30 no. 2
By Diane Luckow

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B.C.'s cancer surgeons do a great job, but they'd like to do even better. That's why the surgeons oncology network (SON) of the B.C Cancer agency recently asked SFU specialist MBA students to help them come up with new ideas for systems that could track cancer patients' surgery outcomes.

Once surgeons have operated and the patient has recovered, they generally don't see the patients again.

“There are gaps in our data,” explains SON administrator Barbara Poole. “We know if a patient died during the operation or in hospital after the operation but other than that, we don't know.”

Surgeons don't know the patient's quality of life after surgery or the implications of that surgery, nor do they always know if the cancer has recurred.

“Surgeons are frustrated because they can't share data with anyone regarding their surgery - they can't share best practices,” explains SFU business assistant professor Andrew Gemino, whose specialist MBA e-commerce class analysed the problem and suggested solutions.

Such information would go a long way toward determining which surgical procedures work best for various types of cancer. “You want the least harm done while you still get the benefits,” explains Poole. “What are the best surgical options for a given cancer scenario? That sort of rigorous review hasn't been conducted in so many areas of health care.”

Asking for assistance from SFU specialist MBA students proved to be an eye-opener for SON. Six teams of students examined intranet and extranet options that could share information among patients, general practitioners and surgeons.

One group, led by students Natalie Thibault, Remi Trudel, Eric Glaser and Maury Lum, recommended that surgeons use a personal digital assistant loaded with a SON electronic form on which they could enter their operations' data. The electronic form would ensure that all surgeons enter their data in the same manner. The information could then be sent electronically to the cancer agency.

“The challenge is to create a form and standards that all surgeons can agree on,” says Thibault.

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