Telehealth trial may go up a gear

Andrew and Daphne Lamont have a virtual follow-up appointment with an oncologist, supported by...
Andrew and Daphne Lamont have a virtual follow-up appointment with an oncologist, supported by the Cancer Society’s Leanne Kennard. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A pilot programme testing telehealth follow-up consultations for cancer patients could be accelerated should further Covid-19 restrictions be put in place, the Cancer Society says.

The trial, being carried out by the Cancer Society’s Oamaru branch, was designed to try to prevent the need for rural and regional cancer patients to make a potentially arduous round trip to Dunedin for a consultation which could be as short as 15 minutes.

Seven patients so far have trialled video consultation from a secure terminal set up in the society’s Oamaru office.

Initial feedback from both patients and doctors had been positive, and the return of Covid-19 had heightened interest in the trial, Cancer Society Otago Southland acting chief executive Bob King said.

"With the proper precautions in place, people could continue to have their regular follow-ups with consultants or the oncology service without the need to cross borders so to speak, between quarantine areas or however that might evolve.

"Hopefully, it doesn’t evolve, but obviously that option is there."

Both the society and the Southern District Health Board were watching the trial closely, and there had already been discussions about a second remote consultation hub being set up, Mr King said.

"There is technology under review by us at the moment, obviously decent video conferencing gear so consultants have good quality visuals during the session.

"We are using LogiTech video conferencing through a system with a high level of security ... we expect the numbers of people wanting to take part to increase, and we have two more taking part next week, taking our numbers up to nine."

SDHB oncologist Blair McLaren was enthusiastic about the trial, and said it could be a "big win" for patients and families.

"We want to make sure as many people as possible can benefit from telehealth," Dr McLaren said.

"It is not right for every situation but we need to ensure it’s not just for those who have access to a personal computer."

Leanne Kennard, from the society’s supportive care team, said patients and families had told her they preferred the convenience of virtual services and felt the quality of care they received was comparable to face-to-face appointments.

"We are available to support all North Otago people who have been diagnosed with cancer and the clinics help reduce the stress for many of our patients."

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