NEW ORLEANS—A statewide telehealth network can successfully deliver support to cancer survivors living in rural areas, research presented at the Oncology Nursing Society 37th Annual Congress has found.

Little literature exists evaluating the use of professionally-led support groups using videoconferencing. However, emerging evidence suggests that televideo sessions can be an effective way to facilitate cancer survivorship sessions in rural areas.

For more than 20 years, The University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS, has utilized Interactive Televideoconferencing (ITV) services from the Midwest Cancer Alliance (MCA) to broadcast clinical telemedicine services, thus saving time and expenses and expediting the adoption of evidence-based care.

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The MCA, established in 2007, is a membership-based organization of hospitals and cancer centers designed to increase access to cancer research and advance the quality and reach of cancer prevention, early detection, treatment, and survivorship in Kansas and western Missouri. In order to promote evidence-based care, the MCA uses ITV to broadcast professional education courses to members, some as far as 400 miles away.

When member assessments at the hospital indicated that patients and families desired professionally facilitated support, a team at the University of Kansas Medical Center decided to extend telehealth services to cancer survivors.

To do so, the hospital sought out collaboration with Turning Point, a metropolitan community support organization, to adapt their programming for patients in the telehealth setting. Turning Point offers holistic educational and support services to help individuals and families manage the illness process, reduce symptoms, and increase coping skills.

Three rural MCA partner sites worked with staff and Turning Point leaders to select topics for the initial televideo groups. Programs were delivered monthly, with a coordinator present at each local site to provide emotional support, promote participation, and build rapport over televideo.

Participants were asked to complete a program evaluation tool used by Turning Point so that comparison to in-person support groups could be made. Survey results indicated that the televideo programs increased access to facilitated support for rural patients and families. Patients, caregivers, and staff reported high satisfaction with the televideos, and the local community became more aware of the programs and participating hospital brands. The viewers and staff reported that the videos had tremendous personal impact by increasing donors and funding as well increasing awareness about the program and hospitals. Program facilitators also developed a tip sheet for televideo presenters.

Challenges faced during the program included the difficulty of facilitating interaction between participants, the presenter, and other sites; busy schedules of the site hospitals; and occasional equipment malfunction.

Based on the success of the pilot program, the hospitals plan to continue monthly programming into 2012, and topics and facilitators have been secured for the year. A new LIVESTRONG Cancer Transitions program has been added to the program this year.

The program had a great personal impact on the individual’s cancer story

The televideo program was funded by an Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT) grant.