Telehealth opens cancer treatment trials to rural patients

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Telehealth opens cancer treatment trials to rural patients
VCCC building

Improving trial data and patient outcomes.

The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) is pushing for more regional and rural cancer patients to use telehealth to access crucial clinical trials.

The VCCC, a multi-disciplinary specialist cancer hospital and research centre based in Melbourne, has established a “teletrials” program using a framework created by the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia.

The program attempts to build relationships between regional and rural Victoria and metropolitan research centres using telehealth technology to give patients the opportunity to participate in clinical trials closer to home.

While telehealth has gained acceptance as a method of care delivery, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, remotely delivered clinical trials are yet to become popular among clinicians and the public despite being “a logical extension”, lead author Ian Collins and two VCCC colleagues wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Teletrials could also be effective at getting more people overall into clinical trials and keeping them in the programs, improving both outcomes for researchers and the patients.

“Currently, less than 5 percent of regional cancer patients participate in any clinical trial; barriers include travel distance to a metropolitan site, a lack of trials available locally, and costs involved for patients and carers such as travel and accommodation and loss of earnings," the researchers wrote.

“While there are no set targets for participation rates, there has been a correlation between trial participation rates and improved cancer survival, such that a higher rate is desirable.”

The VCCC’s model also addresses potential and perceived risks in teletrials, such as the clinical safety of new treatments in regional settings, lack of trial expertise and monitoring challenges.

Remote monitoring is already becoming increasingly common, and as such “location is not a barrier”, the article concludes.

For researchers, the technology may enable faster recruit of patients and therefore an opportunity to complete their research faster.

“Teletrials do more than just meet trial metrics,” the VCCC article stated.

“They develop synchronous partnering between regional and metropolitan centres, allowing regional equity of access to cutting edge diagnostics and therapeutics while maintaining patients’ care delivery closer to home, thereby avoiding disruption to family, work and social interactions.”

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