Pemberton Valley oncology project seeks to improve continuity of care for cancer patients

Despite its impressive beauty, the Sea-to-Sky region is not a paradise for all. The region’s limited health care services, especially when it comes to cancer patients, leave a lot to be desired. But the Rural and Remote Division of Family Practice is hoping they can change that.

Following her work in providing oncology services in Haida Gwaii, Dr Michele Leslie is hoping she can replicate her island success in the Sea-to-Sky corridor. The “Improving Continuity of Cancer Care in the Pemberton Valley” project, which is currently in the Expression of Interest (EOI) phase, is exploring the feasibility of offering local oncology services for residents within the Pemberton area. If the project is successful, it would mean cancer patients in the Pemberton region would no longer have to travel hours away for follow-up care and treatment.

“I have a special passion for connecting rural, northern and Indigenous populations with cancer treatments,” explains Dr Leslie. “Providing care closer to home can enormously improve quality of life for rural cancer patients by reducing travel times and barriers to care”.

The project arose out of a need exemplified by a patient named Bob. The small-town farmer began to feel sick one day and visited his doctor, where he was diagnosed with cancer. He was devastated but determined to fight the disease. Unfortunately, his nearest hospital is several hours away, and Bob’s financial resources wouldn’t cover frequent visits. The need to be away from his family and farm for extended periods of time due to medical appointments would also prove detrimental. The project team is driven by a desire to prevent patients like Bob from having to forgo care due to barriers like he experienced.

Another gap in follow-up care was identified among First Nations patients and patients with barriers to care, such as those living in impoverished circumstances, or those with no access to transportation or telephones. These patients, and the physicians caring for them, feel the travel and communication barriers are leading to missed appointments and inadequate patient follow-ups—a key gap the project team hopes to bridge.

The project team will continue to scope out the project and gain better insight into the number of patients affected by this gap during this EOI phase. Additionally, they will be engaging with local service providers, including BC Cancer Agency, Indigenous partners, and Vancouver Coastal Health. This work will inform a strategy for the region and will be presented to the Shared Care Committee at a later date for full project funding.

“As a rural family doctor, it is rewarding to create more local options for vulnerable cancer patients, who are literally ‘fighting for their lives’.”

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