Statistical process control for radiotherapy quality assurance



Every quality assurance process uncovers random and systematic errors. These errors typically consist of many small random errors and a very few number of large errors that dominate the result. Quality assurance practices in radiotherapy do not adequately differentiate between these two sources of error. The ability to separate these types of errors would allow the dominant source(s) of error to be efficiently detected and addressed. In this work, statistical process control is applied to quality assurance in radiotherapy for the purpose of setting action thresholds that differentiate between random and systematic errors. The theoretical development and implementation of process behavior charts are described. We report on a pilot project is which these techniques are applied to daily output and flatness/symmetry quality assurance for a 10MV photon beam in our department. This clinical case was followed over 52days. As part of our investigation, we found that action thresholds set using process behavior charts were able to identify systematic changes in our daily quality assurance process. This is in contrast to action thresholds set using the standard deviation, which did not identify the same systematic changes in the process. The process behavior thresholds calculated from a subset of the data detected a 2% change in the process whereas with a standard deviation calculation, no change was detected. Medical physicists must make decisions on quality assurance data as it is acquired. Process behavior charts help decide when to take action and when to acquire more data before making a change in the process.