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Cancer patient thrilled with video consultations


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Cancer patient thrilled with video consultations


Transcontinental Media

ST. JOHN’S — Superlatives slid off Gerald Alexander’s tongue as the cancer patient described the health initiative that allows him to consult with an oncologist in St. John’s without leaving home.

The program uses the same technology that enabled him to participate in a media event at the H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre while sitting in a clinic in Burin.

“It’s beautiful,” he told reporters. “It can’t be beat. It’s perfect.”

Alexander, who has prostate cancer and lives in Frenchman’s Cove, is not alone in his appreciation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teleoncology Program.

A recent evaluation found that 90 per cent of its users are satisfied with the initiative, which allows people in rural areas to receive clinical cancer care without travelling to St. John’s.

Health officials trumpeted those results Wednesday, with Alexander, his wife Bridgette and a nurse taking part via a video feed from Burin.

Patients say the program is just as good as seeing a doctor in a clinic, said Dr. Kara Laing, Eastern Health’s clinical chief of oncology.

“That really was reassuring to us, as the people who take care of these patients,” she said.

There are currently 120 cancer patients at 25 locations taking part in the program.

It started early in 2003 as a research and development project, with Dr. Max House as its principal investigator.

The intent was to use technology to provide clinical cancer services to rural areas, and to see if such a project would be sustainable and transferable to other areas of health care.

The predicted outcomes were reduced travel for patients and physicians as well as a faster delivery of service. It appears those results are being realized.

Alexander said staying at home and travelling a few miles instead of to St. John’s is saving a lot of money.

It is also helping emotionally, he added, at a time when he is not always feeling great.

“This takes care of a lot of the problems,” he said. “It saves a lot of travel, and a lot of wear and tear on a person that has cancer. So I really appreciate it.”

Dr. Jonathan Greenland, a radiation oncologist, said the program has cut his travel to rural clinics from six weeks a year to 10 days.

It has allowed him to see more patients more often.

He considers that the biggest benefit to teleoncology, especially for those who may be in pain.

“You can imagine someone with lung cancer having pain and having to wait for two months to see me,” he said, “when now I can see them in the next couple of days (and) the pain is going to be gone much faster.”

Not only does teleoncology get thumbs up from patients and doctors, it has also has proven to be sustainable and transferable.

“It has been successful and will continue to be,” said House. “Also, it has opened the door for us to do many other things in telehealth field in this province.”

Those other things have already started.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information is using the project’s clinical component to develop the Provincial Telehealth Program, which will provide distance services in areas such as diabetes, kidney diseases, mental health and neurology.

“This is the springboard on which the centre will carry forward on delivering health care to Newfoundland and Labradorians wherever they live,” said Mike Barron, CEO of the centre.

Louise Jones, Eastern Health’s interim president and CEO, agreed.

“We are witnessing a fundamental shift in our thinking about how we can effectively provide quality health services to remote and rural communities,” she said.

There is no doubt Gerald Alexander or his wife will welcome that change in philosophy.

“We find it very much more convenient for us,” Bridgette said. “It’s a great thing. It’s a great thing.”

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