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Local doctor named to national Commission on Cancer
Dr. Richard Olson confers with nurse Teresa Sellers. Olson recently received a three-year appointment as cancer liaison physician to the cancer program at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. - photo by Tom Reed

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Dr. Richard Olson believes his appointment to the Commission on Cancer will let him combine an interest in information technology with his dedication to treating cancer patients.

Olson, a surgeon at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, has been named a cancer liaison physician to the commission for a three-year term. The commission, made up of more than 16,000 volunteer physicians from across the country, is part of the American College of Surgeons.

More than 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year, according to the American College of Surgeons. The commission’s goal is to improve the quality of life and survival rate for those cancer patients.

The commission is “an effort to ensure quality of community programs,” Olson said.

“The core mission at this time ... is to track the results of our care, three, five, 10 years out and measure our results,” he said. But tracking results isn’t only about sharing the treatments that are working, but also letting doctors and patients know which haven’t, Olson said.

In addition to making sure cancer patients are getting quality health care, the commission also engages in research as well as prevention and education.

The commission’s National Cancer Database has data on patient demographics, tumor characteristics, treatment and outcomes for more than 22 million cancers diagnosed and treated between 1985 and 2006. Part of Olson’s duty as a member of the commission is to make sure the data submitted from Northeast Georgia Medical Center is valid and representative of the work the hospital is doing in treating cancer.

Compiling that data will be changed by the growing shift toward electronic records, Olson said.

“I don’t think there’s any question that in order for people to have a better health care experience, we’ve got to manage technology,” he said. “Gainesville is ahead of many with electronic records. ... We’re in pretty good position here in Gainesville to be up to date on that, but putting it all together is a challenge.”

The commission also aims to make sure that advances in cancer treatment and research are filtering down to the doctors and patients at a faster rate, Olson said.

“We need to make sure to get that out to the public ... and diffuse that information about advances out from the universities out to the community,” he said.

In addition to the exchange of information nationally, Olson said he also is appreciative about the chance to network with other doctors and hospitals across Georgia. Collaboration can help that expansion.

“A place like Gainesville is very much in transition from a community hospital to being very much a regional center. (Collaboration) gives us a way to do that, to quickly grow in our scope and our services,” Olson said.

Olson, who has been in Gainesville for nine years, said about half of his practice is devoted to cancer patients. Olson graduated in 1980 and completed his residency at Emory University Hospital. He also is a member of the cancer committee at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.