Introduction: The Telehealth for Supportive Survivorship Care pilot project trialled the delivery of an exercise and education program via telehealth for cancer survivors.
Barriers of distance and local access to appropriate supportive care can add to challenges faced by rural and regional cancer survivors (1). Tele-oncology has the potential to enhance both access to and the quality of cancer care and patient education using telecommunication techniques to exchange health information and provide healthcare and education over a distance (2). While tele-oncology enables innovative alternatives to support patients, there are few examples that feature group education and allied health interventions.
Methods: From 2016 – 2018, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services funded a Cancer Council Victoria, Hume and Grampians Integrated Cancer Services project to pilot a new model of survivorship care. The 8-week,16-hour pilot program included weekly group exercise sessions delivered by exercise physiologists, followed by education from health professionals using telehealth linking multiple sites. Presentations provided participants with knowledge, information, supported self-management skills and the opportunity for social connections to be made.
Telehealth enabled small participant groups to link with others in their region, decreased the need for multiple presenters and connected the health services together and allowed participants to access the program close to home.
Evaluation included surveys, focus groups and phone interviews. Action research methodologies enabled refinement of local program delivery throughout the project to develop an effective and sustainable model.
Results: During the two year pilot project, 110 participants attended 8 programs across 5 rural health services. Self-reported pre-post data from 43 participants showed that 86% increased their weekly physical activity and 48% increased daily fruit and vegetable consumption. Qualitative analysis showed that program access close to home significantly reduced travel time, assisted cancer survivors to re-engage with their health service and increased local social connections.
Conclusions: This method of program delivery utilising telehealth enables embedding of the program into existing workforce delivery structures, assists in overcoming social and geographic barriers for regional cancer survivors and improves health and wellness. Results show this is a sustainable model with expansion state-wide as the Cancer Wellness and Exercise Program.
This model is now embedded in 30 Victorian regional and metropolitan acute and community health services with 42 programs delivered to 400 participants in 2019. The Cancer Wellness and Exercise program assists in overcoming social and geographic barriers for cancer survivors to improve health and wellness.