Alignment tattoos have long been used to ensure patients receive external radiotherapy in exactly the right place every time they have treatment.
The radiographer might make between one and three freckle-sized marks with ink under the surface of a patient’s skin. The marks are permanent, much like a tattoo.
However, for many patients, tattoos can be psychologically damaging, impacting their body image and acting as a lasting reminder of their treatment. Tattoos are also problematic for patients whose religious beliefs do not permit permanent marks to be made on the skin.
While advances are being made within healthcare to reduce the reliance on tattoos, the solutions are expensive and not widely available.
The London Clinic’s Radiotherapy team set out to provide a different option for patients.
The team trialled a new approach with breast cancer patients whereby pen marks were drawn onto the skin and covered with transparent stickers. A map of the exact positioning of the marks on the body was reproduced on a sheet of clear acetate as a guide.
Via extensive auditing, the team was able to show that the new method was as accurate and safe as tattoo treatment, but the benefit of providing choice for patients far outweighed the traditional approach.
“We constantly strive to fully empower and involve patients in the decision-making process around their care,” said Deirdre Moran, Quality and Development Superintendent at The London Clinic.
“Given what we knew about the negative impact that tattoos can have on patients, we felt we needed to do something about it.
“I’m so proud that we have been recognised by CHKS for thinking about things differently. What started as wanting to offer patients more choice has led to a simple solution which has made a huge impact.”
One patient commented: “When you’re diagnosed with cancer everything happens so fast. There’s a lot of information to take in and lots of decisions to make in a short space of time.
“On many occasions I have felt like an observer in my own treatment. Being able to say no to permanent marks was a small way of taking back some control.”
As a charitable hospital, The London Clinic’s vision is to advance clinical excellence and share best practice worldwide in order to improve patient outcomes.
“When you think about innovation you may think about the latest kit or expensive solutions – but this was a simple solution that cost very little and made so much difference,” said Deirdre.
“We’re actively sharing what we’ve learned with our colleagues in healthcare to show that things can be done differently.”
CHKS is a leading provider of healthcare intelligence and quality improvement services. The CHKS Awards were set up to recognise and celebrate the roles of care organisations in delivering high-quality care.