Focus on MP and RO

Focus on MP and RO

Resource Allocation in Radiation Oncology: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

By Navneeth Hariharan, ME


Radiation oncology is a dynamic field that has evolved significantly in recent years, from integrating advanced technologies to using multidisciplinary care pathways. This article delves into resource allocation in radiation oncology and describes the current clinical practice environment, the changes that have led us here, and how we can manage resources to provide the care needed for our patients.

The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) document “Safety Is No Accident: A Framework for Quality Radiation Oncology Care,” highlights the growing technical complexity in radiation oncology, which has led to shifts in the distribution of tasks and the scope of practice within clinics.1 Simple staffing ratios based on equipment and patient numbers alone are insufficient to reflect the unique resource requirements of each clinic due to its procedural mix and technology profile. The rapid adoption of new technologies in radiation therapy over the last two decades has led to an influx of documents from professional societies that guide us in navigating the evolving scope of practice of radiation oncology. For instance, the average number of AAPM guidance documents has increased from about two annually in 1990 to over 10 per year in 2020. 

Changes in Clinical Practice 

In addition to the use of ancillary technologies such as surface guidance and automated tools for contouring and planning, there has been increased adoption of hypofractionation and retreatment in radiation therapy, intensifying the workload for physicians, physicists, and dosimetrists. This is due to the proportionate increase in treatment planning-related tasks and the need for personal supervision of more patient treatments, mainly with stereotactic radiosurgery and stereotactic body radiation therapy.  

The average number of treatment fractions has been roughly halved compared to a decade ago. Treating the same number of patients with hypofractionation each year compared to conventionally fractionated patients gives a sense of having fewer patients on the linac at any point in time due to the reduced overlap of patient treatment schedules. This, combined with cuts in reimbursement, could lead to a focus on increasing throughput, adding risk to a system that has absorbed a significant amount of additional workload with a marginal increase in workforce. To add to this mix, we see high levels of vacant positions, as evidenced by postings in the AAPM’s placement service. Many facilities have had positions open for more than a year due to the lack of clinical medical physicist applicants.    

Resource allocation studies in modern radiotherapy services have identified opportunities for improved resource utilization by integrating advanced technologies and workflows. These studies aim to establish requirements based on determining clinic-specific resource demands. The increasing complexity of the treatment process, the growing reliance on multiple data inputs, and the role of automation and artificial intelligence in treatment planning and delivery are critical focal points. 

A comprehensive review of these studies and models provides valuable insights for optimizing resource allocation. Approaches such as time studies, staffing models, and algorithms developed by international organizations contribute to understanding resource needs. Several key factors influence resource requirements: the scope of practice, the adoption of current practices (e.g., CT vs MR-guided HDR), fractionation schedules, physician/staff schedules, and special considerations such as retreatments, standardization, and automation. Process optimization is crucial to improve the effectiveness of resource utilization. This involves standardizing processes, documentation, and delegating tasks efficiently. 

What We All Feel Has Yet To Be Quantified 

There is an intricate balance between technological advancements, clinical workflows, and resource allocation in radiation oncology. The field has undergone significant changes in recent years, leading to increased complexity. Resource optimization is essential to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of patient care. We need tools to calculate staffing requirements based on complexity while incorporating trends such as increased utilization of SBRT and SRS, increased number of implanted devices, and patients returning for retreatment.  

How Do We Evolve With the Field? 

Personnel level – OLA and peer review 

Online Longitudinal Assessment (OLA) is a readily available tool for medical physicists to continually evaluate and address knowledge gaps. This method offers a unique opportunity for real-time assessment with instantaneous feedback, enabling practitioners to identify areas that may require further attention in the clinic.  In a 2023 ABR survey, 79% of respondents acknowledged OLA’s effectiveness in pinpointing clinical knowledge gaps, and 76% affirmed its role in facilitating remediation efforts. This underscores OLA’s potential as an evaluative tool and a dynamic component of continuous learning and professional development for medical physicists.    

Another important tool in radiation oncology is peer review, which offers a valuable opportunity for colleagues to collaborate and address potential challenges faced in the clinic. Implementing structured peer review, particularly leveraging tools outlined in guidelines such as TG1032 and MPPG15,3 provides a systematic approach to identifying process gaps. By engaging in peer review, clinics can tap into the collective expertise, fostering a collaborative environment that can lead to the development of a more robust and effective radiation oncology program. The insights gained from peer review can be instrumental in refining protocols, enhancing the quality of patient care, and ensuring ongoing alignment with best practices in the field. 

Department Level – Practice Accreditation and Volunteering  

Accreditation in radiation oncology provides many benefits beyond the evident advantages of quality improvement, enhanced patient safety, and increased credibility. Accreditation processes offer an opportunity for professional development, prompting clinics to pause their daily routine and thoroughly assess the state of their practices and associated processes. The rigorous audit requirements encourage teams to standardize procedures, manage risks, and foster continuous improvement over time. Additionally, the accreditation journey prompts teams to critically review current guidelines, facilitating timely adaptations to ensure alignment with evolving industry standards.  

Professional volunteering offers a multitude of benefits. First, it provides volunteers with a unique insight into the current progress and challenges within the field, allowing them to stay abreast of the latest developments. Second, interacting with peers at various career stages becomes an invaluable source of mentorship, fostering professional growth and networking opportunities.

In addition, collaborating with like-minded peers on projects to address shared challenges can be exhilarating and intellectually stimulating. This collaborative effort contributes to the field’s advancement and allows individuals to learn from different perspectives and approaches. The experience of working collectively on a project can generate innovative solutions and enhance problem-solving skills. While volunteering demands time and effort, the benefits extend beyond the immediate commitment.

Volunteering can reinvigorate one’s sense of purpose and passion for their profession. And finally, the knowledge and experiences gained through volunteering can directly translate into improved practices within one’s clinic.  


These strategies converge on a central theme – the value of dedicating scheduled time for reflection and learning amidst our routine work. As highlighted by Eduardo Briceño in his TED talk, delineating between performance and learning modes is crucial for skill enhancement and improved patient care. By embracing these proactive measures, medical physicists can navigate the dynamic landscape of radiation oncology, ensuring continuous improvement and staying at the forefront of the field’s advancements.


  1. Safety is No Accident: Digital Book. American Society for Radiation Oncology. 2019.
  1. Halvorsen PH, Das IJ, Fraser M, et al. AAPM Task Group 103 report on peer review in clinical radiation oncology physics. J Appl Clin Med Phys. November 22, 2005.
  1. Halvorsen PH, Baydush AH, Buckey CR, et al. AAPM Medical physics practice guideline 15.A: Peer review in clinical physics. J Appl Clin Med Phys. September 14, 2023.

Navneeth Hariharan is a clinical medical physicist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is passionate about improving patient safety and treatment quality in radiation oncology. He serves as a member of multiple American Association of Physicists in Medicine committees, as a physicist surveyor for the Radiation Oncology Practice Accreditation at the American College of Radiology, and an active volunteer for the American Board of Radiology. He co-authored two recent medical physics practice guidelines published through AAPM. In his free time, he enjoys listening to audiobooks and music.

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