Improving Rural Cancer Outcomes (IRCO)

Mortality rates for rural populations are about 30% higher than for urban people, with up to 70% higher mortality rates in some remote regions.

The IRCO project, conducted by the University of WA and led by medical researchers Professor D’Arcy Holman and Professor Jon Emery, seeks to identify the causes for this gap. Over 500 patient case records were studied, with their consent, and the treatment path of each compared to the ideal. Interviews were conducted to establish where delays happened and why, where there were cost or travel barriers, or simple misunderstandings. Time to see the first doctor, time to diagnosis, time to see the cancer team, hospital delays and every other possible issue has been considered.

The frequency and seriousness of each issue created a list of priorities. The team then developed strategies for improvement. These involved the public, doctors, availability of information, access to consultants and the functioning of the specialist hospitals, their cancer teams and how they ensure treatment continues after hospital.

The research team then investigated if these strategies worked in the real world. Testing was at limited sites for cost reasons. The Lishman Health Foundation provided funding for one part of the strategy – an evaluation of a public awareness campaign 18 months after the intervention. The evaluation was conducted at this time to determine durability of effect for further implementation across regional Australia.

The research took place in two phases;

  • Phase One – Developing measuring tools for changes in understanding and attitude of the public about cancer
  • Phase Two – The interviewers then used the tools to compare regions that were exposed to the campaign with those who were not

Lead Researchers:

Professor Jon Emery
Professor D’Arcy Holman