Telehealth plan could revolutionise cancer treatment in the bush

Dr Sabe Sabesan

Doctors in north Queensland have developed a new plan they say could revolutionise cancer treatment in the bush, by extending access to clinical trials for cancer patients in remote areas.

The plan would be an extension of the existing telehealth model which brings treatment to remote patients.

Telehealth services deliver health services using communication technologies such as video-conferencing, enabling patients to speak to specialists without having to travel to the nearest major city.

Dr Sabe Sabesan, an oncologist and the architect of the new national framework, said that international guidelines “clearly suggest that the best treatment option for incurable cancers is clinical trials.”

Despite that, residents outside of major centres in Australia struggle to access the experimental treatments offered in clinical trials.

Dr Sabesan’s model would work like telehealth, using the primary centres’ specialists, trial coordinators and staff to help recruit, treat and manage patients up to hundreds of kilometres away.

“The clinical trial access to rural patients, whether it is through the telehealth model or a face-to-face model, is fundamental for cancer care,” he said.

“If you want to provide the best option for our patients and improve their survival, then clinical trials needs to made be available, or made accessible to rural patients closer to home.”

Dr Sabesan said the plan was ready to go, but there were still a few hurdles to overcome.

“We need to have all the regulatory processes streamlined.

“For example contracts, you can’t have 10 different contracts, so hopefully governments should facilitate formation of one overarching contract that includes everyone.”

Broader access has overall benefits the country: COSA

Dr Sabesan has gathered the support of Australia’s medical community, including the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA).

Dr Mei Krishnasamy, COSA’s president, said broader access to clinical trials would mean larger study sample sizes and better outcomes.

“The more people we can recruit the more attractive we become to international industry and sponsors,” she said.

“Which is fabulous for our patients because we get more trials, but it’s great for the country because we get more money in to do trials, and we know that’s great for the health system.

“It’s great for the economy and it’s great for our workforce, who are able to then develop more and more clinical trial skills.”

Dr Krishnasamy said there was still work to be done, but praised the work of Dr Sabesan and his team.

“I think what Professor Sabesan and his team have done is that they have offered for the first time in Australia a national framework for this conversation to really take off, and that’s very exciting.”

COSA has recently published Dr Sabesan’s Australasian Tele-Trial Model.

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