New GP network to help boost remote clinical trial access

Jolyon Attwooll

30/03/2022 3:14:42 PM

Taking part in clinical trials is known to improve health outcomes – but rural patients often miss out. Could that be about to change?

Telehealth consultation.
The PARTNER network uses telehealth technology to help people in more remote locations participate in clinical trials.

More likely to get injured, have cancer or kidney disease, go to hospital and die younger: those are the stark odds for residents of rural and remote Australia compared to their metropolitan counterparts.
Improving access to preventive healthcare is a well-known factor, with the shortage of GPs in rural areas one of the most widely discussed current issues in primary care.
Could facilitating access to clinical trials boost the wellbeing of the almost seven million people who live in regional areas?
That is the theory driving new infrastructure investment designed to help people living outside big cities take part – with general practice set to play a critical role.
A group of academic GPs, led by the University of Melbourne, is forming a network to boost the project, which they hope could improve health outcomes in rural and remote Australia.
By 2025, it is projected 90 practices will be involved in the PARTNER network, as part of the Australian Teletrial Program.
The scheme uses telehealth technology to help people in more remote locations participate in clinical trials. It follows a pilot run by Queensland Health and the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia between 2017 and 2020.
A 2018 newsGP article highlighted how a resident of Airlie Beach in Queensland was able to take part in a cancer drug trial being run more than 270 kilometres away in Townsville.
Jon Emery, a professor of primary care cancer research, along with researcher Dr Kristi Milley, wrote about the development for the University of Melbourne’s Pursuit website this month.
‘We know that access to clinical trials can improve outcomes, quality of life, and help patients be more engaged in their healthcare,’ their article reads.
‘However, clinical trials are often centred around hospital-based care and can prove challenging for people based in regional and rural areas to access due to time, cost and social disruption.’
The clinical trial model will run through the rural general practice networks, with trust in relationships said to be ‘an important component’ of the plan.
‘By running the trials through an established network, the program will provide regional patients with access to clinical trials which they might otherwise not be invited into,’ Professor Emery and Dr Milley write.
The trials will focus on early detection and prevention of disease, as well as treating common conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
The network is being funded through the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund, under the ‘Enabling Infrastructure for Rural, Regional and Remote Clinical Trials’ initiative.
The first project to use the network will be the ‘Identifying cirrhosis and liver cancer in primary care’ clinical trial, run through the Primary Care Collaborative Cancer Clinical Trials Group.
Following the Queensland pilot, the decision to expand teletrials nationally was made through the Clinical Trial Project Reference Group.
The group was set up in 2014 to help foster a ‘streamlined and consistent national approach to clinical trials’, with one of its aims stated as ‘enhancing health outcomes and building Australia’s ability to attract national and international clinical trials.’
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