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Heath Skinner, MD, PhD, Radiation Oncologist
Heath Skinner, MD, PhD, Radiation Oncologist

Life Changing Is ... Using Technology to Save Lives

Heath Skinner, MD, PhD, Radiation Oncologist

"We work hand in glove with our medical and surgical oncology colleagues to try to make both the clinical delivery of radiation and the patient experience as good as possible in one of the most challenging times of their life."

When Heath Skinner, MD, PhD, made the decision to come to UPMC, a few factors played a role.

The chance to return closer to home was attractive for the West Virginia native and his family. But so was UPMC's long track record of excellence in cancer care. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center is a national leader in clinical care and research.

"UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh have a long history of being one of the leaders nationally and worldwide in the study and treatment of head and neck cancer, and lung cancer as well," says Dr. Skinner, director of Radiation Oncology at UPMC Hillman and a specialist in head and neck and lung cancers.

Dr. Skinner is a physician-scientist with an active laboratory. The ability to bring research learnings into patient care helps to ensure patients have access to the latest treatments — and better outcomes. Patients across the UPMC Hillman footprint also can participate in a wide range of clinical trials.

When he came to UPMC, Dr. Skinner also saw an opportunity to build the Department of Radiation Oncology's academic and clinical reputation.

One way that's already happening is with technology. UPMC Hillman has and is continuing to use cutting-edge technology in radiation oncology.

“Radiation oncology is technology-driven to some degree," Dr. Skinner says.

UPMC Hillman is one of just a handful of cancer centers in the U.S. to use the RefleXion™ X1 machine, the most advanced radiotherapy system. UPMC Hillman is also upgrading machines across its network to deliver better imaging and more advanced radiotherapy delivery techniques.

Technology advancements can help provide patients with more comprehensive care. The UPMC Hillman team creates an individualized treatment plan for each patient, focusing on their specific case and goals. The advanced technology fits into that plan.

"Just like any other field of oncology or medicine in general, the primary goal is really a relationship with the patient," Dr. Skinner says. "And every patient deserves a personalized treatment plan. It really is a discussion with the patient to personalize their care based upon their stage of disease and what their goals are, what they want to achieve, and what can be achieved."

Another growing area of technology is artificial intelligence. Dr. Skinner and UPMC Hillman are using AI in radiation oncology to complement physicians and staff in developing the best possible radiation treatment plans.

"(AI is) extraordinarily helpful to help us get in that ballpark of where we should be, standardize things, and ultimately, make things more efficient," Dr. Skinner says. "Which benefits the patient because then that means we could start their treatment that much sooner."

While technology is important, Dr. Skinner says nothing will ever replace the relationship between clinicians and patients.

"We truly deliver clinical excellence in the context of radiation care," Dr. Skinner says. "We work hand in glove with our medical and surgical oncology colleagues to try to make both the clinical delivery of radiation and the patient experience as good as possible in one of the most challenging times of their life. Moreover, we have really powerful and profound clinical trials that are currently ongoing and that we're developing for the future that utilize radiation in ways that most other centers in the country are not.

"We have technology now and will have in the future that most other places just don't have. So I think it's a combination of clinical excellence, being on the cutting edge of clinical and translational research, and ultimately that relationship with a patient that really sets us apart."

At UPMC, Life Changing Medicine means improving our patients' experience any way we can.

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