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2020 ACCC Innovator Awards: 3D Model Helps Ease Patient Distress


July 16, 2020
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This blog is the third of an eight-post ACCCBuzz series highlighting the achievements of the 2020 ACCC Innovator Award Winners. You can learn more about the innovations being recognized this year and the people who pioneered them by joining us at the upcoming ACCC 37th [Virtual] National Oncology Conference, September 14-18.

Patient health literacy is an essential—but often lacking—aspect of quality cancer care. Particularly when patients receive a diagnosis unfamiliar to them, they need tools to understand the facts so they can make informed treatment decisions with their physicians. Theresa Roelke, MSN, RN, AGNP-C, a geriatric nurse practitioner at Maine Medical Center Cancer Institute, says that when people receive news of a lung nodule after screening, they are often distressed. “What I was finding is that patients look at their radiology report and it looks pretty scary because they don't understand it,” she explains. “They don't understand the medical language, and they're at a loss.”

To help improve patient understanding before a possible diagnosis, Roelke partnered with an art student from a local university to design and implement a 3D model to illustrate to patients exactly what a lung nodule looks like. “This tool is meant to educate patients before they even see their imaging report,” says Roelke, “or while the imaging report is being viewed and reviewed with the patient by a provider.”

The model Roelke uses to teach patients today is based on a nodule model found in a closet where she works at the Maine Medical Center Thoracic Oncology Clinic. A nurse brought it to the attention of Roelke, and no one in the clinic knew its origins or how it was used. Roelke decided it would be a helpful education tool for patients. “I brought it home and used calipers to get an accurate measurement of the nodules and then labeled each nodule in millimeters,” says Roelke. “I began using the tool in the clinic during my lung screening shared decision-making consults to engage patients more creatively. The tool was found to be very helpful in understanding lung nodule size, which is metrically calculated.”

After discovering that patients appreciated learning from this hands-on tool, Roelke wanted to make it better. The model did not demonstrate the specific characteristics of lung nodules. She took her thoughts and designs to paper. When she received her manager’s enthusiastic support to design a more innovative nodule model, Roelke partnered with a student from the Maine College of Art to begin making 3D prototypes.

“Because I have a background in education and as an entrepreneur, I’m constantly envisioning ways to collaborate across organizations and industry to design a project that’s well-rounded,” explains Roelke. “I am currently collaborating with the Dean of the College of Science, Technology, and Health at the University of Southern Maine in its Maker Innovation Studio to improve the current design. The plan is to collaborate on future innovations in medical tools and education.”

Roelke says her 3D lung nodule model can be used in many healthcare settings—including primary care, emergency departments, inpatient settings, and pulmonology offices—to help give patients the necessary education to make informed decisions with their physicians about their care.

To promote wider use of the model, Roelke hopes to implement a randomized control trial to investigate its effectiveness as a patient education tool. While funding for the trial shifted to COVID-19 research due to the pandemic, Roelke’s intention is to promote the use of the 3D lung nodule tool far beyond Maine Medical Center and MaineHealth. “I think that the research will eventually happen,” she says, “which will help bring this tool to a broader audience as it begins to be implemented in clinics across the nation.”

Roelke credits the success of her innovation with helping her better connect with patients. “I often explain to patients that we're comfortably removed from what's happening inside of our bodies until we have symptoms,” she says. “We can build tools that encourage patient engagement, so we're not talking at them. We're helping patients truly understand what's happening within their bodies.”

To discover how Roelke’s 3D lung nodule tool is being used in the clinic and how to adapt the tool to meet your patients’ needs, attend her in-depth presentation at the ACCC 37th [Virtual] National Oncology Conference by registering for "Leveraging a 3D Lung Nodule Educational Tool to Reduce Patient Distress."

Attend the ACCC 37th [Virtual] National Oncology Conference to learn about the accomplishments of the other 2020 ACCC Innovator Award winners on topics ranging from onboarding experienced non-oncology nurses to address staffing shortages to the origins of an oncology residency program for physical therapists.