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10 Jul 2019

Palliative care clinical trials improve patient outcomes

  • VCCC Alliance
  • Austin Health

Palliative care clinical trials improve patient outcomes

Austin Health clinician Dr Aaron Wong and research nurse Joyce Chua are passionate about palliative care and clinical trials.

“Palliative care is about a team approach towards providing the best quality of life for the patient, incorporating good symptom management and ensuring that the patient and carer are aware of what is happening. Clinical trials in palliative care is essential for establishing and creating new standards for what we do, that are backed by robust evidence,” Dr Wong said.

Victoria has a proven track-record in palliative care clinical trials. The VCCC Building Trial Group Capability Program is focusing leadership and activity in the field to increase workforce skills, as well as access for patients.

“Clinical trials provide patients with the opportunity to access specialised treatments and therapies that they may otherwise not have had the chance to access. It helps establish better care for our patients,” Dr Wong said.

“The VCCC program has allowed us to open the palliative care clinical trials unit at Austin Health, to provide an opportunity for access to palliative care trials to the large demographic of patients at this site. There is ongoing considerable interest from patients and staff, which also reflects the need here and potential for growth.”

Early palliative care intervention can improve patient outcomes

The Austin Health team has implemented three palliative care clinical trials to date. STEP Care, a notable trial measuring the feasibility of standardised, early palliative care, is recruiting patients with advanced cancers. Patients who are randomised to STEP Care receive an extra layer of supportive care, a standardised outpatient model of palliative care that is not otherwise commonly-used in the early stages of the disease. 

“Research suggests that early palliative care intervention, in conjunction with the patients’ ongoing oncology care, can result in tangible improvements in quality of life for both patients and carers such as reduced anxiety and stress, improved symptom management and support,” Ms Chua said.

“At Austin Health, we have been able to introduce patients to the concept of palliative care clinical trials. We are also turning around common misconceptions about palliative care whilst providing information and context for treatment and care management.”

Expanding networks, connections, capability and capacity

Beginning her career as a chemical engineer, Ms Chua made a career change after completing a Master of Nursing Science at the University of Melbourne. In her current role, Ms Chua is working with Dr Wong to execute and project manage the trials.

“In addition to using previous engineering project management skills, my role also involves assisting in screening potential trial participants, liaising with patients and carers to collect trials data, data entry and working with various departments and medical teams at Austin Health to ensure a smooth trials operation,” she said.

“I enjoy my interactions and engagements with patients and their families. I can't imagine not being part of the VCCC program. It has meant direct access to a larger experienced network, which I have been able to tap into for advice, knowledge, and shared learnings. The VCCC supported palliative care clinical trials group and Austin Health’s Palliative Care Department have been truly supportive from the first day, which has been instrumental to our successes thus far.”

“Clinical trials in palliative care is producing strong, high-level evidence to improve health outcomes with lasting results that can impact and improve patients’ experiences.”

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