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REF NO.: 145

SUBJECT: Teleoncology program launched
DATE: Jan. 6, 2005

The Newfoundlandand Labrador Teleoncology Program was launched at 11 a.m. today at the Newfoundland Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation (NCTRF) in St. John’s. The program’s primary objective is to demonstrate the effective development, integration and sustainability of telehealth into cancer services delivery between the NCTRF and participating health boards, using the resources of the Telehealth and Education Technology Resource Agency (TETRA) of Memorial University of Newfoundland.

"This teleoncology program will support cancer services throughout the province through tele-consultations, the transmission of medical information and the provision of education and training for cancer professionals, patients, families, relatives and support groups," said Dr. Maxwell House, principal investigator for the teleoncology program and professor emeritus.

"Travel for medical care has always been a considerable problem in this province and this is especially so for patients with cancer who often have to make frequent visits during their care,” added Dr. House. “The teleoncology program could reduce some of this travelling by allowing some parts of cancer care to be provided in or near patients’ home community. For years I've wanted to expand the use of telemedicine/telehealth in cancer care for patients who live in rural and more isolated areas of this province. With this program I am confident that this is going to happen."

The teleoncology program will build on proven telehealth technologies and develop the guidelines and protocols to create a service accessible from primary, secondary and tertiary locations to deliver and support province-wide cancer treatment, management and educational services. As well as Dr. House, key parties involved in the program include Bertha Paulse, CEO of the NCTRF; Dr.Kara Laing, director of medical oncology with the NCTRF; Erin Keough, director of TETRA/Telemedicine; the Department of Health and Community Services, the Western Health Care Corporation, Health Labrador Corporation and Grenfell Regional Health Services. Representatives from GooseBay, Corner Brook and St. Anthony participated in the news conference via video link.

Dr.Laing said this telehealth initiative will enable the NCTRF’s patients to receive some of their cancer care close to home where they have the support of family, friends and community. “Core care involves a multidisciplinary team and we hope that these resources will be utilized by the physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, nutritionists and all others involved to provide direct patient care, participate in patient care conferences and for ongoing education.”

Dr.Michael Jong, medical director of Health Labrador Corporation, said the NCTRF provides an excellent service to cancer patients in the province. “Outreach programs allow patients to receive chemotherapy in Labrador Cityand Goose Bayand have been very good for cancer patients living in Labrador. The support that the Cancer Centre provides our local nurses and doctors who help to look after cancer patients, has been exemplary.”

Dr. Jong said, however, that patients still have to travel to St. John's for assessment by the oncology team. “For patients and their families the travel is expensive and disruptive to their work and lives. Teleoncology can offer assessment and advice by the oncology team for patients closer to home. It will reduce the disruption to the lives of patients and their families. We want to thank the teleoncology program team for getting this project started, the NCTRF for being part of this project, TETRA for providing telehealth services and the Government of Newfoundland and Labradorfor supporting this project. This teleoncology service is another great step in improving the lives of cancer patients and their families in our province and especially for patients in Labrador.”

Dr. Ken Jenkins, vice-president of medical service with the Western Health Care Corporation, said the corporation is very pleased to be an integral partner in this most exciting project. “Our hope is that we will be able to use this technology in all of our hospitals and health centres in the region. Teleoncology has the potential to offer many benefits to cancer patients and the professional staff who care for them. Improved access to cancer specialists using distance technology will make it easier for cancer patients and their families to receive care while reducing the frequency and cost of travel. This is particularly important in the large geographical area of the Western Region. We are very proud of the team who have put this project together and look forward to working with them to implement the teleoncology capability.”

Speaking on behalf of the Grenfell Regional Health Services, Dr. J. Hillyard said the cost of travel to and from St. John's is a significant burden for cancer patients. “Many patients already receive at least some of their chemotherapy here and we look forward to some of the assessments being done via telehealth."

Dr. Ed Hunt, medical consultant with the Department of Health and Community Services, said teleoncology will “launch a new era in bringing quality oncology services to rural and remote regions of this province, bringing services closer to where people live and thereby improving access to health services throughout the province.”

Dr. Hunt added that the lessons learned through the introduction of the teleoncology program will pave the way for many other telemedicine and telehealth services. “This will transform health service delivery in Newfoundland and Labrador and will improve access to many services currently unavailable in certain rural and remote regions of the province. The Department of Health and Community Services is pleased to be a partner in this phase of the teleoncology program.”

Erin Keough, director of TETRA, said many of the oncology services planned within the program are currently delivered via traditional methods, requiring the patient and family to travel for a face-to-face visit, and/or via consultations with non-NCTRF physicians using the telephone. “To augment and enhance existing service, there will be a requirement to modify, adapt and test services for distance delivery. TETRA will provide the technical and management support to the teleoncology program, providing our experience and expertise in employing information communication technologies and techniques developed and proven effective over a period of more than two decades.”

The Lawson Foundation is one of the funding partners for the Newfoundland and Labrador teleoncology program. “Our Healthy Communities Cancer program is focused on supportive care initiatives and training to enhance the care that professionals provide to patients in their home communities,” explained Angie Killoran, executive director of the foundation. “Using the resources of TETRA, this program will extend supportive care to people and their families living with cancer across the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. This project's worthwhile objectives reflect The Lawson Foundation's commitment to improve the experience of cancer patients.”

Another financial supporter of the Teleoncology Program is Novartis Oncology Canada. “This innovative initiative will benefit Newfoundland and Labrador cancer patients by providing greater access to the oncology specialists for the entire province,” said Jason Brown, oncology specialist representative in Atlantic Canada for Novartis. “We are proud to help support one of Canada's leading research foundations, the NCTRF, as they use technology to deliver cancer treatment to more patients and support more health care professionals than ever before.”

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