Stewart Island provides a glimpse into a simpler, slower lifestyle and thanks to telehealth consultations, Oncology patient Gary Cocker can continue to enjoy this little piece of paradise 30 kilometres off the South Island.
Diagnosed with Stage IV (Metastatic) Lung Cancer in 2016, Gary has made many trips from Stewart Island to Southland Hospital for consultations and treatment.
However more recently, he has been enjoying virtual consultations with Southern DHB Oncologist Dr Blair McLaren from Dunedin and an Oncology Nurse based in Invercargill.
“Video sessions at home save at least three hours of travel, as well as time waiting for ferries. We also have to spend the whole day in Invercargill with accompanying costs, fuel and food,” says Gary.
“I enjoy the relative simplicity of the telehealth sessions. It was easy to set up and I felt surprisingly comfortable communicating in the format. I have met Blair on a number of occasions at the hospital, so we already had an established relationship. I think this definitely helped me feel comfortable in the sessions.”
Dr McLaren says telehealth is all about being flexible and finding out what works best for the patient.
“I would say there isn’t an average session. We have used VC to smart phones and home computers, VC to hubs both in other hospitals and NGO rooms, three way links between myself, patients, whānau and nurses, and telephone consults to all locations, including to a farmer who was herding bulls while I spoke to him!
“The big win is reducing travel so the time taken for an appointment is not dominated by the patient and family having to drive for hours to see us for a short appointment.”
The telehealth session will often have a nurse at the other end who can make notes for the patients and follows up afterwards to ensure they understood everything.
As for the future of Oncology telehealth? Dr McLaren has his sights set on expanding.
“I’d like to expand the number of sites we use as hubs to make sure everyone can benefit from telehealth. We need to make sure it is not just for those who have access to a personal computer.”