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Vol 40  No 11
March 13, 2008


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Changing the face of cancer care
by Sharon Gray

Dr. Jonathan Greenland consults regularly with cancer patients outside St. John’s via teleconference. Gerald Alexander, centre on screen, and his wife Bridget Alexander, left, no longer have to face the long drive to St. John’s.

(photo by HSIMS)

Cancer patients in rural and remote areas of the province are overwhelmingly pleased with the use of telehealth to deliver oncology services. It saves such out-of-pocket costs as travel to St. John’s and accommodation and food while in the city; it also eases the stress of traveling and being away from home and family.

Oncologist Dr. Jonathan Greenland at the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre said teleoncology has reduced his time travelling and allowed him to see more patients.

“My involvement in teleoncology started on a small scale, but within a few short months evolved into the largest component of my practice,” he said. “I am now able to easily assess patients who otherwise would have been too unwell to travel for assessment. At the same time, the need for me to attend our regional clinics has diminished, which results in better continuity of care for my patients in St. John’s and at the regional clinic. Overall I’ve noticed the proportion of patients from rural areas in my practice has increased dramatically since my involvement with teleoncology started.”

The impact of the teleoncology project in one rural and remote area was summed up by Dr. Michael Jong, senior physician at Lake Melville Hospital, Happy Valley Goose Bay.

“Teleoncology is a godsend,” he said. “Cancer patients with their caregivers and family doctors are now able to consult oncologists in St. John’s without having to travel at great cost, time lost and discomfort.”

The Teleoncology Program, a research and development project led by Dr. Max House as principal investigator, was started in 2004 and jointly carried out by the Faculty of Medicine and the Cancer Program of the Eastern Health Authority in co-operation with the three other regional health authorities. A recently completed evaluation of the program, done by Memorial’s Health Research Unit, found over 90 per cent support and satisfaction with the use of telehealth services to deliver oncology services. The Teleoncology Program was found to be acceptable to both patients and health care providers in the delivery of clinical services, as well as a substantial resource for continued education programs, particularly to health professionals practicing in rural and remote areas of the province.

During the project, the provincial and federal governments carried out a Telehealth Strategic Study which was followed by the establishment of a full-funded Telehealth Program within the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information.

Because of the early success of teleoncology and a clear indication that it was a model that could be widely applied, the clinical part of the program was turned over by the Faculty of Medicine to the Centre for Health Information and through them to the regional health authorities.

“This project, which had been a priority of mine for several years, has clearly shown that health care delivery in this province can be enhanced, with reduced travel and expenses to patients and families and reduced travel by physicians, giving them more active time in practice,” Dr. House noted.

The teleoncology project was made possible through funding support from the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation, the Lawson Foundation of London, Ont., the substantial and continuing support of the Department of Health and Community Services, the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research. and some support from Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc.

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