Aim: With ongoing improvements in breast cancer survival rates, there is a need for quality follow-up care for women after treatment, particularly for the 30% of women who reside outside of metropolitan areas where health services resources are limited. This qualitative study explored the experiences of follow-up care (medical and psychosocial) after breast cancer treatment among women living outside major Australian cities.
Methods: Twenty-five women, recruited from the Breast Cancer Network Australia, took part in semi-structured telephone interviews addressing perceptions of follow-up care access and quality. Thematic saturation was reached at 22 interviews, whereby three more interviews were conducted to ensure validity of our interpretation. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, independently coded, and thematically analysed.
Results: Returning home after active treatment was described as a difficult time, exemplified by feelings of isolation after having been in constant contact with health professionals. With limited access to local providers, many women travelled to regional centres for appointments with multiple health professionals for follow-up care. However, there was considerable overlap in consultation content, and a lack of co-ordination and communication between treating physicians and rural general practitioners. A consistent theme of limited support and resources in rural areas emerged, along with a strong desire for access to other health professionals (dietitians, psychologists and physiotherapists) and support networks via the telephone or internet.
Conclusions: Breast cancer survivors living outside of major Australian cities have limited access to follow-up care and support programs. There is a need for greater co-ordination of care between health professionals, and for the provision of tailored information and accessible support services, which may help to reduce both patient and medical system burden.
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