Building Smart

Design features enhancing patient experience, throughput and cost savings in tomorrow's proton therapy centers

By now through our experience in proton therapy center design, we’ve accumulated a large knowledge base regarding the particularities of these complex facilities. We know what works and where to look for opportunities to optimize the prevailing model. How is smart design making better proton therapy centers?

Here are a few examples:

Hampton University Proton Therapy Center

Hampton University Proton Therapy Center

Increasingly, our designs for proton therapy centers consider the patient experience, whether in the treatment room or outside of it, very carefully. Perhaps most surprising is our approach to the treatment room, where one might assume that radiation would limit available design options. In our earlier projects this space tended to be more utilitarian and functional. But increasingly we find that thoughtful design can make these spaces both comfortable and functional. We’ve learned that we can treat these patient treatment rooms as a hospitality environment. Making the patient feel comfortable during radiation therapy is no small achievement.

Now, the sky’s the limit. Our objective is to create rooms that are as comfortable as any other patient treatment area. We work closely with vendors to ensure their devices line up with our design objectives in these spaces. In the latest facilities, vendors are also showing an amped up brand aesthetic that further enhances the comfortable feel of these spaces. These buildings sound very technical, but when you look closely you can see that there’s an
opportunity to create beautiful spaces. They represent as much a design opportunity as any
other building type. The natural tendency of many, including design professionals, is to assume that
these are just concrete bunkers. Really, these are cancer treatment centers with ample design
opportunities for both interiors and exteriors.

We know how to make proton beam therapy centers functional and safe, bring them in on time and at cost, but we want to make these look great, too.


Treatment vestibule at Provision Proton, Knoxville, TN

Radiation shielding for proton therapy centers has typically relied on a “maze” for entry and exit of the
treatment room that prevents particles from escaping. The downside of the maze is that it adds footprint
to the concrete bunker and requires patients to navigate it going either way.
As a design alternative, VOA has employed shielded, direct-entry sliding doors. This eliminates the
maze and a portion of the concrete volume, reducing the footprint of the bunker. Direct entry, in which a
patient walks straight into a treatment room rather than following a maze down a long, low-ceilinged
corridor, is a more positive, friendly experience.

We’ve found that by analyzing proton center use against specified wall thicknesses we can sensibly reduce shielding in areas where it isn’t required to contain radiation. This results in less bulk, a reduced footprint for the bunker and ultimately cost savings. We have found that using steel plate or high density concrete at the end of the proton beam can also reduce bunker size. While it’s unlikely that any material will replace concrete in proton center design to encase proton therapy equipment, we are still finding ways to optimize and refine the way it’s used.

On the clinical side, we’re increasingly providing flexible use of space in the layout and program of proton therapy centers. We’ve learned to allow for more flexibility for pre-positioning in the room, pre-positioning outside the room and we design more multipurpose rooms rather than those dedicated to a single function. This may not reduce the size of the space, but it makes the spaces more flexible and tends to reduce throughput time.
In the previous model, the changing rooms and gowned waiting occurred in a suite attached to a treatment room. Now, both changing and gowned waiting can be associated with four treatment rooms. Centers with a shared pretreatment area, can stage their patients more efficiently and keep more treatment rooms occupied.

While the patient experience can be a primary driver for design in the patient treatment area, design must also consider peak radiation zones in these spaces. As one example, our team researched and substituted LED lighting when we observed that lamps with filaments burned out quickly in these zones. We also work with manufacturers on their technical documents to relocate conduits to lower radiation zones whenever possible. In increasingly scalable proton centers, patient room design is likely to continuing evolving as more compact technology and in-room scanning comes online.

Download the complete Design Quarterly Winter 2015 – Trends in Proton Therapy Center Design now.

1 Comment

    Thanks for sharing this information on your building! It is so cool to see how different areas need different levels of radiation shielding, which can lead to a more dynamic look. It is amazing that you guys researched things down to the last light bulb in your building. It just shows how committed you are to the safety of everyone!

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