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Health experts and consumers urge government to fund first pilot in cancer care navigation

Health Industry Hub | February 8, 2023 |

Medical: A unified approach to cancer care navigation is needed to break down silos in the way patients receive guidance and information from the point of cancer diagnosis to after cancer treatment. All.Can Australia is calling on both sides of federal politics to commit to funding the first pilot site for a national approach to cancer care navigation in Tasmania.

Mark Butler, Minister for Health and Aged Care, opened the All.Can Australia’s webinar. He stated “We need to find ways and learn lessons to build modern systems to connect the different parts of healthcare in Australia to provide a better response to non-communicable diseases, and cancer is at the top of this government’s list.”

“A central part of The Australian Cancer Plan is navigation. The truth is, navigation across our health system is patchy and fragmented, and in some ways, it is not sufficiently stepped to ensure patients are able to access a level of support that is appropriate to their needs. It is quite variable across the different cancer types, and I know that’s something that All.Can is focused on and their contribution to that challenge will be important,” said Minister Butler.

Research commissioned by All.Can Australia showed that the adoption of this new model, which is a hybrid system that uses technology and experienced navigators (both allied and healthcare professional), is set to deliver patient, health system and economic benefits, including 44% return on investment.

According to Professor Dorothy Keefe, CEO of Cancer Australia, patient navigation needs to form the centrepiece to the efforts to have world class cancer control in Australia. 

“I have personal reasons for being interested in cancer navigation. When I was looking after my own mother as she died from breast cancer, I found it almost impossible to acquire the services I needed and I’m a medical oncologist and I had a senior nurse with me,” said Professor Keefe.

“The point of the Australian Cancer Plan is to put the patients and their carers, community, significant people at the centre using the optimal care pathways to enhance the delivery of cancer care, and to concentrate on those populations and people that we know are not doing as well as others. We don’t want a once-size-fits-all, we want a navigation system that is tailored to the individual patient to enable everybody to have the same outcome.”

Bill Petch –Co-Chair of the All.Can Australia Steering Committee supports the move to prioritise a pilot of the proposed model in Tasmania. By piloting an approach in one location, there is the opportunity to gather robust data to shape the possibility of a national roll-out of the program.

He said “This pilot is our opportunity to scale the model and get it ready for the real world. It is our chance to gather important insights from patients, clinicians and other healthcare workers, plus trial emerging technology that will drive greater connectivity and greater access in the cancer space.

“Patients have long shared their feelings of disempowerment within our current health system. The adoption of a patient-centric and technology-driven navigation model could help address the multitude of unmet needs.”

Dr Susannah Morris, Health consumer advocate and representative, reiterated that her personal experience with cancer confirms that navigation should be about how health consumers are able to move between providers to access services that meet their needs.

“From my perspective, I was lucky that I was diagnosed with a cancer with a good survival rate and had many sources of support. I live in a metropolitan area, my first language is English, I have the financial and social capacity to express my needs, and I have a working knowledge of healthcare systems. Yet, I still found that navigating the winding road of cancer care was hard,” said Dr Morris.

“Navigation needs to be considered right at the beginning with diagnosis. Navigators are important, but we need to have everyone involved in the process, including primary care, allied health professionals, imaging centres, the whole works.”

Jo Glover, Program Director of Cancer Services at Central Adelaide Local Health Network, shared details about the “Cancer Concierge” program that effectively is trialling a new concept for inpatient cancer services at Royal Adelaide Hospital to drive better connection and patient empowerment.

“The Cancer Concierge is a service co-led and co-designed with consumer representatives. Within 24 hours of admission, every patient is greeted by our Cancer Concierge, who will take them through how to use our recently introduced digital tool, Personify,” said Ms Glover. 

“If a patient needs something, they can message the Concierge through a messaging function and get a response quite quickly. The idea is to take as much stress as possible out of an inpatient stay.”

Associate Professor Louise Nott, a Medical Oncologist at Icon Cancer Centre in Hobart, discussed the clinical implications of navigation and how improvements in this area can lead to shared benefits related to access, continuity of care, effectiveness and overall health outcomes.

“We’ve heard so much about the potentials of navigation and I have no doubt that if there was a central, equitable care coordination, it would better assist patients to navigate various providers and give them some empowerment back in the system,” said Professor Nott.

Professor Christobel Saunders, Co-Chair of All.Can Australia and Vice-President of All.Can International, reiterated during the webinar that a shared approach to navigation in Australia is the pathway to equitable access to cancer services.

“We need to do something concrete to improve the patient experience in our health system.  We need a model that knits together the services that already exist,” said Professor Saunders.

“All.Can Australia in partnership with Healthcare Management Advisors have developed a pan-cancer care navigation model that can help achieve equity of outcomes for all cancer patients. We are looking forward to continue working with the government to pilot the model to see the real-world benefits it can deliver.”

The All.Can Australia webinar was supported by Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) and MSD.

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