, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 1201-1207
Date: 17 Nov 2012

Improving access to specialist multidisciplinary palliative care consultation for rural cancer patients by videoconferencing: report of a pilot project

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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.


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.


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.


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.

This paper was presented in part at the 17th International Congress on Palliative Care (named Most Innovative New Program), the 2009 Ontario Hospice Palliative Care Conference (Best Poster Award winner), and the 6th Research Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care, and was recognized by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer as an Innovative Model in Service Delivery.