Barriers and facilitators to clinical implementation of radiotherapy treatment planning automation: A survey study of medical dosimetrists

J Appl Clin Med Phys. 2022 May;23(5):e13568. doi: 10.1002/acm2.13568. Epub 2022 Mar 3.


Purpose: Little is known about the scale of clinical implementation of automated treatment planning techniques in the United States. In this work, we examine the barriers and facilitators to adoption of commercially available automated planning tools into the clinical workflow using a survey of medical dosimetrists.

Methods/materials: Survey questions were developed based on a literature review of automation research and cognitive interviews of medical dosimetrists at our institution. Treatment planning automation was defined to include auto-contouring and automated treatment planning. Survey questions probed frequency of use, positive and negative perceptions, potential implementation changes, and demographic and institutional descriptive statistics. The survey sample was identified using both a LinkedIn search and referral requests sent to physics directors and senior physicists at 34 radiotherapy clinics in our state. The survey was active from August 2020 to April 2021.

Results: Thirty-four responses were collected out of 59 surveys sent. Three categories of barriers to use of automation were identified. The first related to perceptions of limited accuracy and usability of the algorithms. Eighty-eight percent of respondents reported that auto-contouring inaccuracy limited its use, and 62% thought it was difficult to modify an automated plan, thus limiting its usefulness. The second barrier relates to the perception that automation increases the probability of an error reaching the patient. Third, respondents were concerned that automation will make their jobs less satisfying and less secure. Large majorities reported that they enjoyed plan optimization, would not want to lose that part of their job, and expressed explicit job security fears.

Conclusion: To our knowledge this is the first systematic investigation into the views of automation by medical dosimetrists. Potential barriers and facilitators to use were explicitly identified. This investigation highlights several concrete approaches that could potentially increase the translation of automation into the clinic, along with areas of needed research.

Keywords: auto-contouring; automated treatment planning; implementation science; medical dosimetrists; survey study.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Automation
  • Humans
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Radiotherapy Planning, Computer-Assisted* / methods
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated* / methods
  • Surveys and Questionnaires