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Easing the burden of cancer treatments

Medical oncologist Dr Ross Jennens explains how cancer treatments can be done in patients' homes.

Over the past few months we’ve seen some good innovations in cancer treatments in Australia with Medibank now offering eligible members the option of having their cancer treatments in the comfort of their own home.

With improvements in drugs, their side effects and clinical outcomes over the years, an increasing number of chemotherapy infusions and injections are now considered safe for administration in a patient’s home. Home chemotherapy is quite common in the UK, and, as a consultant medical oncologist in Victoria, I have used some of the home chemotherapy services being offered by a few of Melbourne’s public hospitals. They worked well for my patients, but the services weren’t available to private patients.

I was pleased to learn this has now changed, and that, with Healthcare at Home Australia and its team of experienced oncology nurses, Medibank is now offering home chemotherapy to its eligible members.

One of my patients, an 82-year-old man with cancer, needs regular chemotherapy infusions. He has been coming in to our day oncology unit but, as neither he nor his wife drive, his daughter has been forced to take time off work to bring him in. I spoke to the patient about receiving home treatment and he now has some of his infusions in the comfort of his home, and his daughter is able to keep working.

A Healthcare at Home Australia (HaH) nurse calls him to set up the appointment and on the day of treatment collects his chemotherapy and drives out to his home. Before the treatment starts the nurse gives him a comprehensive oncology assessment, and if she has any concerns she can call me to discuss his treatment. Otherwise she begins the infusion and stays with the patient throughout. This one-to-one nursing gives me a very high level of confidence in the service. Importantly, HaH also identified a need for more ongoing support for some of the patient’s side effects, support which they are providing, so he is getting excellent care.

Home chemotherapy infusions or injections are not for every patient or for every drug, but many oncology patients should consider asking their oncologist if they would be suitable. Time and money spent traveling, finding parking and then waiting to be treated are burdens that could be avoided in many cases.

I would recommend Healthcare at Home Australia (HaH) to other consultants. The referral process is simple, and I am sent comprehensive data from each visit for my files. Together with the very high standard of care provided by HaH, home chemotherapy is not just convenient but importantly, also safe.

Advice to patients considering home chemotherapy

  • Speak to your oncologist about your suitability
  • Your oncologist will continue to direct and oversee your treatment, and HaH will report to your oncologist and follow your oncologist’s orders
  • As well as infusions and injections, there is home support available for patients taking oral chemotherapy
  • If you’re unsure, consider trialling the service, or alternating between hospital/clinic treatment and home treatment
  • Even with home treatment there will still be times when your oncologist will need to see you at the clinic or hospital

Dr Ross Jennens is a consultant medical oncologist at Epworth Healthcare

Medical oncologist Dr Ross Jennens explains how cancer treatments can now be given to patients in their own home, bringing greater convenience while still delivering excellent outcomes.

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