Purpose: Palliative care (PC) and palliative radiotherapy (RT) consultation are integral to the care of patients with advanced cancer. These services are not universally available in rural areas, and travel to urban centers to access them can be burdensome for patients and families. The objectives of our study were to assess the feasibility of using videoconferencing to provide specialist multidisciplinary PC and palliative RT consultation to cancer patients in rural areas and to explore symptom, cost, and satisfaction outcomes.
Methods: The Virtual Pain and Symptom Control and Palliative Radiotherapy Clinic was piloted from January 2008 to March 2011. Cancer patients in rural northern Alberta attended local telehealth facilities, accompanied by nurses trained in symptom assessment. The multidisciplinary team at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton was linked by videoconference. Team recommendations were sent to the patients' family physicians. Data were collected on referral, clinical, and consultation characteristics and symptom, cost, and satisfaction outcomes.
Results: Forty-four initial consultation and 28 follow-up visits took place. Mean Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale scores for anxiety and appetite were statistically significantly improved at the first follow-up visit (p < 0.01 and p = 0.03, respectively). Average per visit savings for patients seen by telehealth versus attending the CCI were 471.13 km, 7.96 hours, and Cdn $192.71, respectively. Patients and referring physicians indicated a high degree of satisfaction with the clinic.
Conclusion: Delivery of specialist multidisciplinary PC consultation by videoconferencing is feasible, may improve symptoms, results in cost savings to patients and families, and is satisfactory to users.