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Keywords:

  • access;
  • indigenous health;
  • model of rural services;
  • oncology;
  • rural health;
  • teleoncology

Abstract

Objective:  To describe the use of telemedicine in cancer care (teleoncology model of care) for rural patients in North Queensland.

Design:  This is a descriptive study. Data on demographical and clinical factors were retrieved from the teleoncology database of Townsville Hospital and review of medical records for the period between May 2007 and May 2011.

Setting and Participants:  The medical oncologists at the Townsville Cancer Centre, a regional cancer centre in North Queensland, have been providing their services to rural hospitals in Townsville and Mt Isa districts via videoconferencing since 2007.

Intervention:  Cancer care delivery to rural sites via Townsville teleoncology model.

Main Outcome Measures:  The ability of the teleoncology model to provide the following services to rural towns: (i) specialist consultations; (ii) urgent specialist medical care; (iii) care for Indigenous patients; and (iv) remote supervision of chemotherapy administration.

Results:  Between May 2007 and May 2011, 158 patients from 18 rural towns received a total of 745 consultations. Ten of these patients were consulted urgently and treatment plans initiated locally, avoiding interhospital transfers. Eighteen Indigenous patients received consultative services, being accompanied by more than four to six family members. Eighty-three patients received a range of intravenous and oral chemotherapy regimens in Mt Isa and oral agents in other towns through remote supervision by medical oncologists from Townsville.

Conclusion:  Teleoncology model of care allows rural and Indigenous cancer patients to receive specialist consultations and chemotherapy treatments closer to home, thus minimising the access difficulties faced by the rural sector.