Cancer patients are a cohort with significant supportive care needs, however access to allied health practitioners (AHPs) is limited in many rural communities and can lead to underutilisation of services.
To quantify the optimal level of allied health practitioner services in a rural cancer care clinic.
Medical practitioners and chemotherapy nurses at Alan Coates Cancer Centre (ACCC), Dubbo, recorded when they had performed a task which would have been performed by AHPs if one had been available, if an AHP intervention would have been beneficial to the patient if available, or if referral to an AHP was actually made. Data was collected prospectively over 3 months, and saturation sampling was achieved.
813 individual patients were seen at ACCC in the study period, with 240 (30%) identified as requiring referral to any AHP during this period. Median age of the patients identified was 64, 4 years lower than the median age of the whole cohort. Over half (55%) of patients were from outside the Dubbo postcode. Dietician and social work services were most needed, with 115 and 111 patients thought to require each respectively. Significant numbers of patients were also identified to benefit from review by an exercise physiologist (73), physiotherapist (41), and occupational therapist (39).
The most common primary cancer type referred to AHPs were breast (23 % of all referrals), colorectal (15 %) and lung (8 %).
Within this rural oncology centre, almost one-third of patients optimally required AHP referrals across a number of fields. A large number of patients requiring AHP interventions did not reside locally. More work is required to match AHP workforce with clinical need.