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1.  Integrating evidence into policy and sustainable disability services delivery in western New South Wales, Australia: the 'wobbly hub and double spokes' project 
Background
Policy that supports rural allied health service delivery is important given the shortage of services outside of Australian metropolitan centres. The shortage of allied health professionals means that rural clinicians work long hours and have little peer or service support. Service delivery to rural and remote communities is further complicated because relatively small numbers of clients are dispersed over large geographic areas. The aim of this five-year multi-stage project is to generate evidence to confirm and develop evidence-based policies and to evaluate their implementation in procedures that allow a regional allied health workforce to more expeditiously respond to disability service need in regional New South Wales, Australia.
Methods/Design
The project consists of four inter-related stages that together constitute a full policy cycle. It uses mixed quantitative and qualitative methods, guided by key policy concerns such as: access, complexity, cost, distribution of benefits, timeliness, effectiveness, equity, policy consistency, and community and political acceptability.
Stage 1 adopts a policy analysis approach in which existing relevant policies and related documentation will be collected and reviewed. Policy-makers and senior managers within the region and in central offices will be interviewed about issues that influence policy development and implementation.
Stage 2 uses a mixed methods approach to collecting information from allied health professionals, clients, and carers. Focus groups and interviews will explore issues related to providing and receiving allied health services. Discrete Choice Experiments will elicit staff and client/carer preferences.
Stage 3 synthesises Stage 1 and 2 findings with reference to the key policy issues to develop and implement policies and procedures to establish several innovative regional workforce and service provision projects.
Stage 4 uses mixed methods to monitor and evaluate the implementation and impact of new or adapted policies that arise from the preceding stages.
Discussion
The project will provide policy makers with research evidence to support consideration of the complex balance between: (i) the equitable allocation of scarce resources; (ii) the intent of current eligibility and prioritisation policies; (iii) workforce constraints (and strengths); and (iv) the most effective, evidence-based clinical practice.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-70
PMCID: PMC3368922  PMID: 22436650
Rural; Remote; Regional; Allied health; Disability; Workforce; Retention; Policy; Service provision; Access
2.  Utilising a collective case study system theory mixed methods approach: a rural health example 
Background
Insight into local health service provision in rural communities is limited in the literature. The dominant workforce focus in the rural health literature, while revealing issues of shortage of maldistribution, does not describe service provision in rural towns. Similarly aggregation of data tends to render local health service provision virtually invisible. This paper describes a methodology to explore specific aspects of rural health service provision with an initial focus on understanding rurality as it pertains to rural physiotherapy service provision.
Method
A system theory-case study heuristic combined with a sequential mixed methods approach to provide a framework for both quantitative and qualitative exploration across sites. Stakeholder perspectives were obtained through surveys and in depth interviews. The investigation site was a large area of one Australian state with a mix of rural, regional and remote communities.
Results
39 surveys were received from 11 locations within the investigation site and 19 in depth interviews were conducted. Stakeholder perspectives of rurality and workforce numbers informed the development of six case types relevant to the exploration of rural physiotherapy service provision. Participant perspective of rurality often differed with the geographical classification of their location. The numbers of onsite colleagues and local access to health services contributed to participant perceptions of rurality.
Conclusions
The complexity of understanding the concept of rurality was revealed by interview participants when providing their perspectives about rural physiotherapy service provision. Dual measures, such as rurality and workforce numbers, provide more relevant differentiation of sites to explore specific services, such rural physiotherapy service provision, than single measure of rurality as defined by geographic classification. The system theory-case study heuristic supports both qualitative and quantitative exploration in rural health services research.
doi:10.1186/1471-2288-14-94
PMCID: PMC4118207  PMID: 25066241
Case study; Health service; Rural; Systems theory
3.  The index of rural access: an innovative integrated approach for measuring primary care access 
Background
The problem of access to health care is of growing concern for rural and remote populations. Many Australian rural health funding programs currently use simplistic rurality or remoteness classifications as proxy measures of access. This paper outlines the development of an alternative method for the measurement of access to primary care, based on combining the three key access elements of spatial accessibility (availability and proximity), population health needs and mobility.
Methods
The recently developed two-step floating catchment area (2SFCA) method provides a basis for measuring primary care access in rural populations. In this paper, a number of improvements are added to the 2SFCA method in order to overcome limitations associated with its current restriction to a single catchment size and the omission of any distance decay function. Additionally, small-area measures for the two additional elements, health needs and mobility are developed. By utilising this improved 2SFCA method, the three access elements are integrated into a single measure of access. This index has been developed within the state of Victoria, Australia.
Results
The resultant index, the Index of Rural Access, provides a more sensitive and appropriate measure of access compared to existing classifications which currently underpin policy measures designed to overcome problems of limited access to health services. The most powerful aspect of this new index is its ability to identify access differences within rural populations at a much finer geographical scale. This index highlights that many rural areas of Victoria have been incorrectly classified by existing measures as homogenous in regards to their access.
Conclusion
The Index of Rural Access provides the first truly integrated index of access to primary care. This new index can be used to better target the distribution of limited government health care funding allocated to address problems of poor access to primary health care services in rural areas.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-124
PMCID: PMC2720961  PMID: 19624859
4.  The value of survival analyses for evidence-based rural medical workforce planning 
Background
Globally, abundant opportunities exist for policymakers to improve the accessibility of rural and remote populations to primary health care through improving workforce retention. This paper aims to identify and quantify the most important factors associated with rural and remote Australian family physician turnover, and to demonstrate how evidence generated by survival analysis of health workforce data can inform rural workforce policy making.
Methods
A secondary analysis of longitudinal data collected by the New South Wales (NSW) Rural Doctors Network for all family physicians working in rural or remote NSW between January 1st 2003 and December 31st 2012 was performed. The Prentice, Williams and Peterson statistical model for survival analysis was used to identify and quantify risk factors for rural NSW family physician turnover.
Results
Multivariate modelling revealed a higher (2.65-fold) risk of family physician turnover in small, remote locations compared to that in small closely settled locations. Family physicians who graduated from countries other than Australia, United Kingdom, United States of America, New Zealand, Ireland, and Canada also had a higher (1.45-fold) risk of turnover compared to Australian trained family physicians. This was after adjusting for the effects of conditional registration. Procedural skills and public hospital admitting rights were associated with a lower risk of turnover. These risks translate to a predicted median survival of 11 years for Australian-trained family physician non-proceduralists with hospital admitting rights working in small coastal closely settled locations compared to 3 years for family physicians in remote locations.
Conclusions
This study provides rigorous empirical evidence of the strong association between population size and geographical location and the retention of family physicians in rural and remote NSW. This has important policy ramifications since retention grants for rural and remote family physicians in Australia are currently based on a geographical ‘remoteness’ classification rather than population size. In addition, this study demonstrates how survival analysis assists health workforce planning, such as through generating evidence to assist in benchmarking ‘reasonable’ lengths of practice in different geographic settings that might guide service obligation requirements.
doi:10.1186/1478-4491-11-65
PMCID: PMC4029435  PMID: 24330603
Australia; Cohort studies; Family physician; Family practice; General practitioner; Health manpower; Health policy; Health workforce; Personnel turnover; Policy making; Primary health care; Retention
5.  A review of rural and remote health service indexes: are they relevant for the development of an Australian rural birth index? 
Background
Policy informs the planning and delivery of rural and remote maternity services and influences the perinatal outcomes of the 30 per cent of Australian women and their babies who live outside the major cities. Currently however, there are no planning tools that identify the optimal level of birthing services for rural and remote communities in Australia. To address this, the Australian government has prioritised the development of a rigorous methodology in the Australian National Maternity Services Plan to inform the planning of rural and remote maternity services.
Methods
A review of the literature was undertaken to identify planning indexes with component variables as outlined in the Australian National Maternity Services Plan. The indexes were also relevant if they described need associated with a specific type and level of health service in rural and remote areas of high income countries. Only indexes that modelled a range of socioeconomic and or geographical variables, identified access or need for a specific service type in rural and remote communities were included in the review.
Results
Four indexes, two Australian and two Canadian met the inclusion criteria. They used combinations of variables including: geographical placement of services; isolation from services and socioeconomic vulnerability to identify access to a type and level of health service in rural and remote areas within 60 minutes. Where geographic isolation reduces access to services for high needs populations, additional measures of disadvantage including indigeneity could strengthen vulnerability scores.
Conclusion
Current planning indexes are applicable for the development of an Australian rural birthing index. The variables in each of the indexes were relevant, however use of flexible sized catchments to accurately account for population births and weighting for extreme geographic isolation needs to be considered. Additionally, socioeconomic variables are required that will reflect need for services particularly for isolated high needs populations. These variables could be used with Australian data and appropriate cut-off points to confirm applicability for maternity services. All of the indexes used similar types of variables and are relevant for the development of an Australian Rural Birth Index.
doi:10.1186/s12913-014-0548-7
PMCID: PMC4265404  PMID: 25491346
Indexes; Maternity services; Rural and remote; National maternity services plan
6.  Strengthening Medicare: Will increasing the bulk-billing rate and supply of general practitioners increase access to Medicare-funded general practitioner services and does rurality matter? 
Background
Recent increases in the bulk-billing rate have been taken as an indication that the Federal government's Strengthening Medicare initiative, and particularly the bulk-billing incentives, are 'working'. Given the enduring geographic differences in the supply of general practitioners (GPs) it is timely to reconsider the impact that this increase in the provision of 'free care' will have on access to Medicare-funded GP services in rural and urban areas of Australia. Utilisation has been modelled as two different stochastic processes: the decision to consult and the frequency of consultation.
Results
In the decision to consult model the supply of FFS GPs is a more important predictor of utilisation than the bulk-billing rate. Paradoxically the modelling predicts that ceteris paribus increases in either GP supply or the bulk-billing rate appear to have perverse effects in some areas by decreasing utilisation. In the frequency of consultation model, GP density is not a predictor and increasing the bulk-billing rate will unambiguously increase the frequency of consultation across all areas. In both models, the positive impacts associated with changes in supply and cost are constrained outside the inner metropolitan area by reduced geographic accessibility to Medicare-funded GP services. The modelling also shows that people are more likely to consult a GP in areas of high socioeconomic disadvantage, although socioeconomic status is not a predictor of frequency of consultation.
Conclusion
Bulk-billing rates and the supply of FFS GPs are important features of the Australian health care system that are, potentially, amenable to policy manipulation. The implications of this research are that government policies designed to achieve similarity in these characteristics across geographic areas will not result in equity of access because they fail to address problems caused by geographic inaccessibility in rural and remote areas. Attempting to increase bulk-billing rates in some of these areas may, in fact, reduce access to FFS GP services.
doi:10.1186/1743-8462-2-18
PMCID: PMC1215471  PMID: 16111496
7.  What core primary health care services should be available to Australians living in rural and remote communities? 
BMC Family Practice  2014;15:143.
Background
Australians living in rural and remote areas experience poorer access to primary health care (PHC) and poorer health outcomes compared to metropolitan populations. Current health reform in Australia aims to ensure all Australians, regardless of where they live, have access to essential PHC services. However, at a national level policy makers and health planners lack an evidence-based set of core PHC services to assist in implementing this goal.
Methods
A Delphi method was used to reach consensus on an evidence-based list of core PHC services to which all Australians should have access and their necessary support functions. Experts in rural and remote and/or Indigenous PHC, including policy-makers, academics, clinicians and consumers, were invited to consider a list of core services derived from the literature.
Results
Thirty nine experts agreed to participate. After three survey rounds there was a strong consensus (≥80% agreement) on core PHC services namely; ‘care of the sick and injured’, ‘mental health’, ‘maternal/child health’, ‘allied health’, ‘sexual/reproductive health’, ‘rehabilitation’, ‘oral/dental health’ and ‘public health/illness prevention’; and on the PHC support functions of; ‘management/governance/leadership’, ‘coordination’, ‘health infrastructure’, ‘quality systems’, ‘data systems’, ‘professional development’ and ‘community participation’. Themes emerging from qualitative data included challenges in providing equitable PHC in rural and remote areas, the importance of service coordination and diverse strategies to overcome access barriers.
Conclusion
This study identifies a basket of PHC services that consumers in rural and remote communities can expect to access. It provides rigorously derived evidence that will contribute to a more systematic approach to PHC service planning and availability and will assist policy makers in the allocation of scarce resources necessary to improve the health outcomes of residents of rural and remote areas.
doi:10.1186/1471-2296-15-143
PMCID: PMC4236500  PMID: 25143194
Primary health care; Equity; Access; Core services; Health service planning; Health policy; Rural; Remote
8.  Health behaviour modelling for prenatal diagnosis in Australia: a geodemographic framework for health service utilisation and policy development 
Background
Despite the wide availability of prenatal screening and diagnosis, a number of studies have reported no decrease in the rate of babies born with Down syndrome. The objective of this study was to investigate the geodemographic characteristics of women who have prenatal diagnosis in Victoria, Australia, by applying a novel consumer behaviour modelling technique in the analysis of health data.
Methods
A descriptive analysis of data on all prenatal diagnostic tests, births (1998 and 2002) and births of babies with Down syndrome (1998 to 2002) was undertaken using a Geographic Information System and socioeconomic lifestyle segmentation classifications.
Results
Most metropolitan women in Victoria have average or above State average levels of uptake of prenatal diagnosis. Inner city women residing in high socioeconomic lifestyle segments who have high rates of prenatal diagnosis spend 20% more on specialist physician's fees when compared to those whose rates are average. Rates of prenatal diagnosis are generally low amongst women in rural Victoria, with the lowest rates observed in farming districts. Reasons for this are likely to be a combination of lack of access to services (remoteness) and individual opportunity (lack of transportation, low levels of support and income). However, there are additional reasons for low uptake rates in farming areas that could not be explained by the behaviour modelling. These may relate to women's attitudes and choices.
Conclusion
A lack of statewide geodemographic consistency in uptake of prenatal diagnosis implies that there is a need to target health professionals and pregnant women in specific areas to ensure there is increased equity of access to services and that all pregnant women can make informed choices that are best for them. Equally as important is appropriate health service provision for families of children with Down syndrome. Our findings show that these potential interventions are particularly relevant in rural areas.
Classifying data to lifestyle segments allowed for practical comparisons of the geodemographic characteristics of women having prenatal diagnosis in Australia at a population level. This methodology may in future be a feasible and cost-effective tool for service planners and policy developers.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-6-109
PMCID: PMC1574302  PMID: 16945156
9.  Acute coronary syndrome in Australia: Where are we now and where are we going? 
The Australasian Medical Journal  2014;7(3):149-156.
Background
Acute coronary syndrome (ACS) is a significant contributor to both morbidity and mortality in Australia. Generally speaking, sufferers of ACS who live in rural areas and are treated at rural hospitals have poorer outcomes than those living in metropolitan areas.
Aims
To characterise the differences in the management and outcomes of rural and metropolitan populations in the context of ACS, as well as identify factors responsible for these differences and suggest how they may be addressed.
Method
A review of the current literature surrounding ACS in Australia was undertaken. Through the MEDLINE/PubMed database a thorough search using the terms “acute coronary syndrome” and “Australia” identified 460 papers for review, excluding abstracts and adding “rural”, “metropolitan”, “reperfusion”, and “outcomes” to this search narrowed the results to 149 papers for review. Data was also extracted from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and other Australian government publications. The review draws on insights from both local and international resources and seeks to provide an understanding of the contemporary landscape of ACS in both rural and metropolitan Australia.
The review is broken down into three key sections:
An outline of the 2011 National Heart Foundation of Australia/Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand (NHF/CSANZ) guidelines and adjuvant tools used in the assessment and treatment of ACS, and to what extent these guidelines have been implemented clinically.
An exploration of the current landscape of ACS in Australia and identification of the disparities facing rural populations compared to those in metropolitan areas.
Discussion of the factors that are resulting in poorer outcomes for ACS sufferers and suggestions of novel approaches towards addressing these factors.
Conclusion
Disparities exist between the management and outcomes of rural and metropolitan populations experiencing ACS. While the causes of these discrepancies are multifactorial; the onus is on the healthcare system to effectively reduce associated morbidity and mortality. Improvements in the management of ACS may be achieved through a continued reduction in call-to-needles time via the use of remote and mobile thrombolysis services as well as improvements in in-hospital risk assessment in order to flag and investigate those at risk of ACS.
doi:10.4066/AMJ.2014.1921
PMCID: PMC3973927  PMID: 24719650
ACS; rural; metropolitan; Australia; outcomes
10.  Task Shifting for Scale-up of HIV Care: Evaluation of Nurse-Centered Antiretroviral Treatment at Rural Health Centers in Rwanda 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(10):e1000163.
Fabienne Shumbusho and colleagues evaluate a task-shifting model of nurse-centered antiretroviral treatment prescribing in rural primary health centers in Rwanda and find that nurses can effectively and safely prescribe ART when given adequate training, mentoring, and support.
Background
The shortage of human resources for health, and in particular physicians, is one of the major barriers to achieve universal access to HIV care and treatment. In September 2005, a pilot program of nurse-centered antiretroviral treatment (ART) prescription was launched in three rural primary health centers in Rwanda. We retrospectively evaluated the feasibility and effectiveness of this task-shifting model using descriptive data.
Methods and Findings
Medical records of 1,076 patients enrolled in HIV care and treatment services from September 2005 to March 2008 were reviewed to assess: (i) compliance with national guidelines for ART eligibility and prescription, and patient monitoring and (ii) key outcomes, such as retention, body weight, and CD4 cell count change at 6, 12, 18, and 24 mo after ART initiation. Of these, no ineligible patients were started on ART and only one patient received an inappropriate ART prescription. Of the 435 patients who initiated ART, the vast majority had adherence and side effects assessed at each clinic visit (89% and 84%, respectively). By March 2008, 390 (90%) patients were alive on ART, 29 (7%) had died, one (<1%) was lost to follow-up, and none had stopped treatment. Patient retention was about 92% by 12 mo and 91% by 24 mo. Depending on initial stage of disease, mean CD4 cell count increased between 97 and 128 cells/µl in the first 6 mo after treatment initiation and between 79 and 129 cells/µl from 6 to 24 mo of treatment. Mean weight increased significantly in the first 6 mo, between 1.8 and 4.3 kg, with no significant increases from 6 to 24 mo.
Conclusions
Patient outcomes in our pilot program compared favorably with other ART cohorts in sub-Saharan Africa and with those from a recent evaluation of the national ART program in Rwanda. These findings suggest that nurses can effectively and safely prescribe ART when given adequate training, mentoring, and support.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a serious health problem in sub-Saharan Africa. The virus attacks white blood cells that protect against infection, most commonly a type of white blood cell called CD4. When a person has been infected with HIV for a long time, the number of CD4 cells they have goes down, resulting in acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), in which the person's immune system no longer functions effectively.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has divided the disease into four stages as it progresses, according to symptoms including weight loss and so-called opportunistic infections. These are known as clinical stage I, II, III, or IV but were revised and renamed 1, 2, 3, and 4 in September 2005. HIV infection and AIDS cannot be cured but they can be managed with antiretroviral treatment (ART). The WHO currently recommends that ART is begun when the CD4 count falls below 350.
Rwanda is a country situated in the central Africa with a population of around 9 million inhabitants; over 3% of the rural population and 7% of the urban population are infected with HIV. In 2007, the WHO estimated that 220,000 Rwandan children had lost one or both parents to AIDS.
Why Was This Study Done?
The WHO estimates that 9.7 million people with HIV in low- to middle-income countries need ART but at the end of 2007, only 30% of these, including in Rwanda, had access to treatment. In many low-income countries a major factor in this is a lack of doctors. Rwanda, for example, has one doctor per 50,000 inhabitants and one nurse per 3,900 inhabitants.
This situation has led the WHO to recommend “task shifting,” i.e., that the task of prescribing ART should be shifted from doctors to nurses so that more patients can be treated. This type of reorganization is well studied in high-income countries, but the researchers wanted to help develop a system for treating AIDS that would be effective and timely in a predominantly rural, low-income setting such as Rwanda.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In conjunction with the Rwandan Ministry of Health, the researchers developed and piloted a task-shifting program, in which one nurse in each of three rural Rwandan primary health centers (PHCs) was trained to examine HIV patients and prescribe ART in simple cases. Nurses had to complete more than 50 consultations observed by the doctor before being permitted to consult patients independently. More complex cases were referred to a doctor. The authors developed standard checklists, instructions, and evaluation forms to guide nurses and the doctors who supervised them once a week.
The authors evaluated the pilot program by reviewing the records of 1,076 patients who enrolled on it between September 2005 and March 2008. They looked to see whether the nurses had followed guidelines and monitored the patients correctly. They also considered health outcomes for the patients, such as their death rate, their body weight, their CD4 cell count, and whether they maintained contact with caregivers.
They found that by March 2008, 451 patients had been eligible for ART. 435 received treatment and none of the patients were prescribed ART when they should not have been. Only one prescription did not follow national guidelines.
At every visit, nurses were supposed to assess whether patients were taking their drugs and to monitor side effects. They did this and maintained records correctly for the vast majority of the 435 patients who were prescribed ART. 390 patients (over 90%) of the 435 prescribed receiving ART continued to take it and maintain contact with the pilot PHC's program. 29 patients died. Only one was lost to follow up and the others transferred to another ART site. The majority gained weight in the first six months and their CD4 cell counts rose. Outcomes, including death rate, were similar to those treated on the (doctor-led) Rwandan national ART program and other sub-Saharan African national (doctor-led) programs.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The study suggests that nurses are able to prescribe ART safely and effectively in a rural sub-Saharan setting, given sufficient training, mentoring, and support. Nurse-led prescribing of ART could mean that timely, appropriate treatment reaches many more HIV patients. It would reduce the burden of HIV care for doctors, freeing their time for other duties, and the study is already being used by the Rwandan Ministry of Health as a basis for plans to adopt a task-shifting strategy for the national ART program.
The study does have some limitations. The pilot program was funded and designed as a health project to deliver ART in rural areas, rather than a research project to compare nurse-led and doctor-led ART programs. There was no group of equivalent patients treated by doctors rather than nurses for direct comparison, although the authors did compare outcomes with those achieved nationally for doctor-led ART. The most promising sites, nurses, and patients were selected for the pilot and careful monitoring may have been an additional motivation for the nurses and doctors taking part. Health professionals in a scaled-up program may not be as committed as those in the pilot, who were carefully monitored. In addition, the nature of the pilot, which lasted for under three years and recruited new patients throughout, meant that patients were followed up for relatively short periods.
The authors also warn that they did not consider in this study the changes task shifting will make to doctors' roles and the skills required of both doctors and nurses. They recommend that task shifting should be implemented as part of a wider investment in health systems, human resources, training, adapted medical records, tools, and protocols.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000163.
PLoS Medicine includes a page collecting together its recent articles on HIV infection and AIDS that includes research articles, perspectives, editorials, and policy forums
SciDev.net provides news, views, and information about science, technology, and the developing world, including a section specific to HIV/AIDs
The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a downloadable booklet Task Shifting to Tackle Health Worker Shortages
The WHO offers information on HIV and AIDS (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish) as well as health information and fact sheets on individual countries, including on Rwanda
The UNAIDS/WHO working group on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Surveillance gathers and publishes data on the prevalence of HIV and AIDS in individual countries, including on Rwanda
AIDS.ORG provides information to help prevent HIV infections and to improve the lives of those affected by HIV and AIDS. Factsheets on many aspects of HIV and AIDS are available. It is the official online publisher of AIDS Treatment News
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000163
PMCID: PMC2752160  PMID: 19823569
11.  Isolated rural general practice as the focus for teaching core clinical rotations to pre-registration medical students 
Background
Earlier studies have successfully demonstrated that medical students can achieve success in core clinical rotations with long term attachments in small groups to rural general / family practices.
Methods
In this study, three students from a class of 226 volunteered for this 1-year pilot program, conducted by the University of Queensland in 2004, for medical students in the 3rd year of a 4-year graduate entry medical course. Each student was based with a private solo general practitioner in a different rural town between 170 and 270 km from the nearest teaching hospital. Each was in a relatively isolated rural setting, rated 5 or 6 on the RRMA scale (Rural, Remote, Metropolitan Classification: capital city = 1, other metropolitan = 2, large regional city = 3, most remote community = 7). The rural towns had populations respectively of 500, 2000 and 10,000. One practice also had a General Practice registrar. Only one of the locations had doctors in the same town but outside the teaching practice, while all had other doctors within the same area. All 3 supervisors had hospital admitting rights to a hospital within their town. The core clinical rotations of medicine, surgery, mental health, general practice and rural health were primarily conducted within these rural communities, with the student based in their own consulting room at the general practitioner (GP) supervisor's surgery. The primary teacher was the GP supervisor, with additional learning opportunities provided by visiting specialists, teleconferences and university websites. At times, especially during medicine and surgery terms, each student would return to the teaching hospital for additional learning opportunities.
Results
All students successfully completed the year. There were no statistical differences in marks at summative assessment in each of the five core rotations between the students in this pilot and their peers at the metropolitan or rural hospital based clinical schools.
Conclusion
The results suggest that isolated rural general practice could provide a more substantial role in medical student education.
doi:10.1186/1472-6920-5-22
PMCID: PMC1180439  PMID: 15982418
12.  The "Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL)" longitudinal survey - Protocol and baseline data for a prospective cohort study of Australian doctors' workforce participation 
Background
While there is considerable research on medical workforce supply trends, there is little research examining the determinants of labour supply decisions for the medical workforce. The "Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL)" study investigates workforce participation patterns and their determinants using a longitudinal survey of Australian doctors. It aims to generate evidence to support developing effective policy responses to workforce issues such as shortages and maldistribution. This paper describes the study protocol and baseline cohort, including an analysis of response rates and response bias.
Methods/Design
MABEL is a prospective cohort study. All Australian doctors undertaking clinical work in 2008 (n = 54,750) were invited to participate, and annual waves of data collections will be undertaken until at least 2011. Data are collected by paper or optional online version of a questionnaire, with content tailored to four sub-groups of clinicians: general practitioners, specialists, specialists in training, and hospital non-specialists. In the baseline wave, data were collected on: job satisfaction, attitudes to work and intentions to quit or change hours worked; a discrete choice experiment examining preferences and trade-offs for different types of jobs; work setting; workload; finances; geographic location; demographics; and family circumstances.
Discussion
The baseline cohort includes 10,498 Australian doctors, representing an overall response rate of 19.36%. This includes 3,906 general practitioners, 4,596 specialists, 1,072 specialists in training, and 924 hospital non-specialists. Respondents were more likely to be younger, female, and to come from non-metropolitan areas, the latter partly reflecting the effect of a financial incentive on response for doctors in remote and rural areas. Specialists and specialists in training were more likely to respond, whilst hospital non-specialists were less likely to respond. The distribution of hours worked was similar between respondents and data from national medical labour force statistics. The MABEL survey provides a large, representative cohort of Australian doctors. It enables investigation of the determinants of doctors' decisions about how much, where and in what circumstances they practice, and of changes in these over time. MABEL is intended to provide an important resource for policy makers and other stakeholders in the Australian medical workforce.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-50
PMCID: PMC2837653  PMID: 20181288
13.  Longitudinal Urban-Rural Discrepancies in the US Orthopaedic Surgeon Workforce 
Background
It is unclear whether the supply of orthopaedic surgeons can meet the needs of a growing and aging population. This may be especially concerning in rural areas where there are known disparities in overall healthcare provision.
Questions/purposes
We therefore (1) determined urban-rural trends in the US physician and orthopaedic workforce (including the age of that workforce) from 1995 to 2010; (2) geographically mapped the physician and orthopaedic distribution; and (3) examined urban-rural changes in select nonorthopaedic musculoskeletal provider (chiropractor and podiatrist) workforces from 2000 to 2010.
Methods
County-level provider data from 1995 to 2010 were obtained from the Department of Health and Human Services. This was aggregated to Hospital Referral Regions and ranked by Rural-Urban Continuum Code. Hospital Referral Region-level data were mapped to identify geographic trends. Total physician and orthopaedic surgeon workforce data were averaged across the most urban and rural regions for the study period.
Results
There were urban-rural discrepancies in the physician and orthopaedic workforce from 1995 to 2010 with fewer orthopaedic surgeons in rural areas than urban areas (6.52 versus 8.73 per 100,000 in 2010; p = 0.001). Furthermore, orthopaedic surgeons in rural areas were older than their urban counterparts, with a workforce age ratio (age > 55: age < 55 years) of 0.92 versus 0.65 in 2010 (p = 0.024). From 2000 to 2010, the rural chiropractor and podiatrist workforces showed tremendous growth of 229.6% and 279.9%, respectively.
Conclusions
There were significant urban-rural orthopaedic surgeon workforce discrepancies from 1995 to 2010. Concurrent growth in chiropractor and podiatrist numbers shows significant trends in the musculoskeletal provider workforce that warrant continuing observation and analysis.
Level of Evidence
Level IV, economic and decision analyses. See Guidelines for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.
doi:10.1007/s11999-013-3131-3
PMCID: PMC3773137  PMID: 23801063
14.  Rural outreach by specialist doctors in Australia: a national cross-sectional study of supply and distribution 
Human Resources for Health  2014;12(1):50.
Background
Outreach has been endorsed as an important global strategy to promote universal access to health care but it depends on health workers who are willing to travel. In Australia, rural outreach is commonly provided by specialist doctors who periodically visit the same community over time. However information about the level of participation and the distribution of these services nationally is limited. This paper outlines the proportion of Australian specialist doctors who participate in rural outreach, describes their characteristics and assesses how these characteristics influence remote outreach provision.
Methods
We used data from the Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL) survey, collected between June and November 2008. Weighted logistic regression analyses examined the effect of covariates: sex, age, specialist residential location, rural background, practice arrangements and specialist group on rural outreach. A separate logistic regression analysis studied the effect of covariates on remote outreach compared with other rural outreach.
Results
Of 4,596 specialist doctors, 19% (n = 909) provided outreach; of which, 16% (n = 149) provided remote outreach. Most (75%) outreach providers were metropolitan specialists. In multivariate analysis, outreach was associated with being male (OR 1.38, 1.12 to 1.69), having a rural residence (both inner regional: OR 2.07, 1.68 to 2.54; and outer regional/remote: OR 3.40, 2.38 to 4.87) and working in private consulting rooms (OR 1.24, 1.01 to 1.53). Remote outreach was associated with increasing 5-year age (OR1.17, 1.05 to 1.31) and residing in an outer regional/remote location (OR 10.84, 5.82 to 20.19). Specialists based in inner regional areas were less likely than metropolitan-based specialists to provide remote outreach (OR 0.35, 0.17 to 0.70).
Conclusion
There is a healthy level of interest in rural outreach work, but remote outreach is less common. Whilst most providers are metropolitan-based, rural doctors are more likely to provide outreach services. Remote distribution is influenced differently: inner regional specialists are less likely to provide remote services compared with metropolitan specialists. To benefit from outreach services and ensure adequate remote distribution, we need to promote coordinated delivery of services arising from metropolitan and rural locations according to rural and remote health need.
doi:10.1186/1478-4491-12-50
PMCID: PMC4161914  PMID: 25189854
rural; remote; outreach; visiting; medical; workforce; hub; service planning; policy
15.  Attitudes toward working in rural areas of Thai medical, dental and pharmacy new graduates in 2012: a cross-sectional survey 
Background
Inequity in health workforce distribution has been a national concern of the Thai health service for decades. The government has launched various policies to increase the distribution of health workforces to rural areas. However, little is known regarding the attitudes of health workers and the factors influencing their decision to work in rural areas. This study aimed to explore the current attitudes of new medical, dental and pharmacy graduates as well as determine the linkage between their characteristics and the preference for working in rural areas.
Methods
A cross-sectional survey was conducted, using self-administered questionnaires, with a total of 1,225 medical, dental and pharmacy graduates. They were participants of the meeting arranged by the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) on 1–2 April 2012. Descriptive statistics using mean and percentage, and inferential statistics using logistic regression with marginal effects, were applied for data analysis.
Results
There were 754 doctors (44.4%), 203 dentists (42.6%) and 268 pharmacists (83.8%) enrolled in the survey. Graduates from all professions had positive views towards working in rural areas. Approximately 22% of doctors, 31% of dentists and 52% of pharmacists selected ‘close proximity to hometown’ as the most important reason for workplace selection. The multivariable analysis showed a variation in attributes associated with the tendency to work in rural areas across professions. In case of doctors, special track graduates had a 10% higher tendency to prefer rural work than those recruited through the national entrance examination.
Conclusions
The majority of graduates chose to work in community hospitals, and attitudes towards rural work were quite positive. In-depth analysis found that factors influencing their choice varied between professions. Special track recruitment positively influenced the selection of rural workplaces among new doctors attending the MOPH annual meeting for workplace selection. This policy innovation should be applied to dentists and pharmacists as well. However, implementing a single policy without supporting strategies, or failing to consider different characteristics between professions, might not be effective. Future study of attitudes and factors contributing to the selection of, and retention in, rural service of both new graduates and in-service professionals was recommended.
doi:10.1186/1478-4491-11-53
PMCID: PMC3817458  PMID: 24148109
Medical graduate; Dental graduate; Pharmacy graduate; Medical education; Supply and distribution; Attitude of health personnel; Rural distribution
16.  A national view of rural health workforce issues in the USA 
Rural and remote health  2010;10(3):1531.
Introduction
Regional or state studies in the USA have documented shortages of rural physicians and other healthcare professionals that can impact on access to health services. The purpose of this study was to determine whether rural hospital chief executive officers (CEOs) in the USA report shortages of health professions and to obtain perceptions about factors influencing recruiting and retention.
Methods
A nationwide US survey was conducted of 1031 rural hospital CEOs identified by regional/state Area Health Education Centers. A three-page survey was sent containing questions about whether or not physician shortages were present in the CEO’s community and asking about physician needs by specialty. The CEOs were also asked to assess whether other health professionals were needed in their town or within a 48 km (30 mile) radius. Analyses from 335 respondents (34.4%) representative of rural hospital CEOs in the USA are presented.
Results
Primary care shortages based on survey responses were very similar to the pattern for all rural areas in the USA (49% vs 52%, respectively). The location of respondents according to ZIP code rurality status was similar to all rural areas in the USA (moderately rural, 29.3% vs 27.6%, respectively), and 69.1 % were located in highly rural ZIP codes (vs 72.4% of highly rural ZIP codes for all USA). Physician shortages were reported by 75.4% of the rural CEOs, and 70.3% indicated shortages of two or more primary care specialties. The most frequently reported shortage was family medicine (FM, 58.3%) followed by general internal medicine (IM, 53.1%). Other reported shortages were: psychiatry (46.6%); general surgery (39.9%); neurology (36.4%); pediatrics (PEDS, 36.2%); cardiology (35%); and obstetrics-gynecology (34.4%). The three most commonly needed allied health professions were registered nurses (73.5%), physical therapists (61.2%) and pharmacists (51 %). The percentage of CEOs reporting shortages of two or more primary care specialties (FM, IM or PEDS) was 70.3% nationally, with no statistically significant regional variation (p = .394), while higher for the New England through Virginia region (83.9%) than for all other regions. The CEOs reported the highest specialty care shortages for psychiatry (46.6%) followed by general surgery (39.9%), neurology (36.4%), cardiology (35.0%) and obstetrics-gynecology (34.4%;). Major specialty shortages varied among regions and only for neurology and cardiology were regional differences statistically significant (p < .05). Marked variation between need for healthcare professionals were reported ranging from approximately 73% for registered nurses (RNs) to 16% for health educators. Reporting of need for RNs in rural areas was nearly 74% nationally and 35% reported a need for nurse practitioners. Differences for both RNs and nurse practitioners were not statistically significant among regions. Nationally, approximately 30% of CEOs reported a shortage of licensed practical nurses, which differed significantly among regions (p = .006). There was variation in physical therapist shortages among regions (p = 001), with 61.2% of CEOs reporting shortages nationally. Regional variation pattern was observed for pharmacists (p = .004) with approximately 50% of rural CEOs reporting a need for pharmacists nationally. The association between CEOs’ reported shortages of two or more primary care doctors and their indication of the need for other health professionals was statistically significant for nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and dentists. The recruitment and retention attributes deemed to be of greatest importance were: (1) healthcare is a major part of the local economy; (2) community is a good place for family; (3) doctors are well-respected and supported; and (4) people in the community are friendly and supportive of each other. These were remarkably similar across 6 US geographic regions.
Conclusions
Similarities in shortages and attributes influencing recruitment across regions suggest that major policy and program interventions are needed to develop a rural health professions workforce that will enable the benefits of recent US health reform insurance coverage to be realized. Substantial and targeted programs to increase rural healthcare professionals are needed.
PMCID: PMC3760483  PMID: 20658893
health care; geographic variation; workforce; USA
17.  Retention of allied health professionals in rural New South Wales: a thematic analysis of focus group discussions 
Background
Uneven distribution of the medical workforce is globally recognised, with widespread rural health workforce shortages. There has been substantial research on factors affecting recruitment and retention of rural doctors, but little has been done to establish the motives and conditions that encourage allied health professionals to practice rurally. This study aims to identify aspects of recruitment and retention of rural allied health professionals using qualitative methodology.
Methods
Six focus groups were conducted across rural NSW and analysed thematically using a grounded theory approach. The thirty allied health professionals participating in the focus groups were purposively sampled to represent a range of geographic locations, allied health professions, gender, age, and public or private work sectors.
Results
Five major themes emerged: personal factors; workload and type of work; continuing professional development (CPD); the impact of management; and career progression. ‘Pull factors’ favouring rural practice included: attraction to rural lifestyle; married or having family in the area; low cost of living; rural origin; personal engagement in the community; advanced work roles; a broad variety of challenging clinical work; and making a difference. ‘Push factors’ discouraging rural practice included: lack of employment opportunities for spouses; perceived inadequate quality of secondary schools; age related issues (retirement, desire for younger peer social interaction, and intention to travel); limited opportunity for career advancement; unmanageable workloads; and inadequate access to CPD. Having competent clinical managers mitigated the general frustration with health service management related to inappropriate service models and insufficient or inequitably distributed resources. Failure to fill vacant positions was of particular concern and frustration with the lack of CPD access was strongly represented by informants.
Conclusions
While personal factors affecting recruitment and retention of allied health study participants were similar to doctors, differences also existed. Allied health professionals were attracted by advanced work roles in a context of generalist practice. Access to CPD and inequitable resource distribution were strong ‘push’ factors in this group. Health policy based on the assumption of transferability between professions may be misguided.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-175
PMCID: PMC3479013  PMID: 22726758
18.  Chronic Disease Patients’ Experiences With Accessing Health Care in Rural and Remote Areas 
Background
Rurality can contribute to the vulnerability of people with chronic diseases. Qualitative research can identify a wide range of health care access issues faced by patients living in a remote or rural setting.
Objective
To systematically review and synthesize qualitative research on the advantages and disadvantages rural patients with chronic diseases face when accessing both rural and distant care.
Data Sources
This report synthesizes 12 primary qualitative studies on the topic of access to health care for rural patients with chronic disease. Included studies were published between 2002 and 2012 and followed adult patients in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
Review Methods
Qualitative meta-synthesis was used to integrate findings across primary research studies.
Results
Three major themes were identified: geography, availability of health care professionals, and rural culture. First, geographic distance from services poses access barriers, worsened by transportation problems or weather conditions. Community supports and rurally located services can help overcome these challenges. Second, the limited availability of health care professionals (coupled with low education or lack of peer support) increases the feeling of vulnerability. When care is available locally, patients appreciate long-term relationships with individual clinicians and care personalized by familiarity with the patient as a person. Finally, patients may feel culturally marginalized in the urban health care context, especially if health literacy is low. A culture of self-reliance and community belonging in rural areas may incline patients to do without distant care and may mitigate feelings of vulnerability.
Limitations
Qualitative research findings are not intended to generalize directly to populations, although meta-synthesis across a number of qualitative studies builds an increasingly robust understanding that is more likely to be transferable. Selected studies focused on the vulnerability experiences of rural dwellers with chronic disease; findings emphasize the patient rather than the provider perspective.
Conclusions
This study corroborates previous knowledge and concerns about access issues in rural and remote areas, such as geographical distance and shortage of health care professionals and services. Unhealthy behaviours and reduced willingness to seek care increase patients’ vulnerability. Patients’ perspectives also highlight rural culture’s potential to either exacerbate or mitigate access issues.
Plain Language Summary
People who live in a rural area may feel more vulnerable—that is, more easily harmed by their health problems or experiences with the health care system. Qualitative research looks at these experiences from the patient’s point of view. We found 3 broad concerns in the studies we looked at. The first was geography: needing to travel long distances for health care can make care hard to reach, especially if transportation is difficult or the weather is bad. The second concern was availability of health professionals: rural areas often lack health care services. Patients may also feel powerless in “referral games” between rural and urban providers. People with low education or without others to help them may find navigating care more difficult. When rural services are available, patients like seeing clinicians who have known them for a long time, and like how familiar clinicians treat them as a whole person. The third concern was rural culture: patients may feel like outsiders in city hospitals or clinics. As well, in rural communities, people may share a feeling of self-reliance and community belonging. This may make them more eager to take care of themselves and each other, and less willing to seek distant care. Each of these factors can increase or decrease patient vulnerability, depending on how health services are provided.
PMCID: PMC3817950  PMID: 24228078
19.  Prioritizing Congenital Syphilis Control in South China: A Decision Analytic Model to Inform Policy Implementation 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(1):e1001375.
Nicholas Tan and colleagues use a decision analytic model to quantify the impact of the ten-year national syphilis control plan in China and conclude that earlier and more extensive screening are also necessary for reaching policy goals.
Background
Syphilis is a major public health problem in many regions of China, with increases in congenital syphilis (CS) cases causing concern. The Chinese Ministry of Health recently announced a comprehensive 10-y national syphilis control plan focusing on averting CS. The decision analytic model presented here quantifies the impact of the planned strategies to determine whether they are likely to meet the goals laid out in the control plan.
Methods and Findings
Our model incorporated data on age-stratified fertility, female adult syphilis cases, and empirical syphilis transmission rates to estimate the number of CS cases associated with prenatal syphilis infection on a yearly basis. Guangdong Province was the focus of this analysis because of the availability of high-quality demographic and public health data. Each model outcome was simulated 1,000 times to incorporate uncertainty in model inputs. The model was validated using data from a CS intervention program among 477,656 women in China. Sensitivity analyses were performed to identify which variables are likely to be most influential in achieving Chinese and international policy goals. Increasing prenatal screening coverage was the single most effective strategy for reducing CS cases. An incremental increase in prenatal screening from the base case of 57% coverage to 95% coverage was associated with 106 (95% CI: 101, 111) CS cases averted per 100,000 live births (58% decrease). The policy strategies laid out in the national plan led to an outcome that fell short of the target, while a four-pronged comprehensive syphilis control strategy consisting of increased prenatal screening coverage, increased treatment completion, earlier prenatal screening, and improved syphilis test characteristics was associated with 157 (95% CI: 154, 160) CS cases averted per 100,000 live births (85% decrease).
Conclusions
The Chinese national plan provides a strong foundation for syphilis control, but more comprehensive measures that include earlier and more extensive screening are necessary for reaching policy goals.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, 1.5 million pregnant women are infected with syphilis, a bacterial infection that is usually transmitted during sexual contact but that can also pass from a mother to her unborn child. In many of these women, the disease is detected through routine antenatal testing and is successfully treated with penicillin. But among those women who are not treated, about half experience adverse outcomes—the death of their baby during early or late pregnancy (fetal death and stillbirth, respectively) or soon after birth (neonatal death), or the birth of an infected baby. Babies born with syphilis (congenital syphilis) often fail to thrive and can develop problems such as blindness, deafness, and seizures if not treated. In 2008, syphilis in pregnancy contributed to 305,000 fetal deaths, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths, and 215,000 babies were affected by other adverse consequences of congenital syphilis. Yet congenital syphilis is simple and cheap to eliminate—a few injections of penicillin can clear the infection in a pregnant woman, and screening all pregnant women for syphilis is feasible even in low-resource settings.
Why Was This Study Done?
Congenital syphilis has recently reemerged in China. In the 1990s, there were very few cases of congenital syphilis in China, but by 2009, the reported incidence of congenital syphilis had risen to 139 cases per 100,000 live births. In 2010 the Chinese Ministry of Health announced a ten-year National Syphilis Prevention and Control Plan (NSCP) that, in line with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, aims to reduce the incidence of congenital syphilis to fewer than 30 cases per 100,000 live births by 2015 and to fewer than 15 cases per 100,000 live births by 2020. China's strategy for achieving these targets includes increasing prenatal syphilis screening coverage to 80% in urban areas and 60% in rural areas, increasing treatment rates among infected women to 90% in urban areas and 70% in rural areas, and increasing syphilis awareness among adults. But will this strategy be sufficient? Here, the researchers develop a mathematical model to quantify the likely impact of the NSCP's strategy on the incidence of congenital syphilis in southern China.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a decision analytic model in which women move through a sequence of health states from uninfected, through infection and pregnancy, and to the development of congenital syphilis, and fed data collected in Guangdong Province between 2005 and 2008 on women's fertility, female syphilis cases, and syphilis transmission rates into the model. The researchers checked that their model provided estimates of the incidence of congenital syphilis that matched the reported incidence for Guangdong Province (internal validation) and the reported incidence in a congenital syphilis intervention program in Shenzhen, Guangdong (external validation). They then used their model to identify which parts of the NSCP strategy are likely to have the greatest effect on the incidence of congenital syphilis. Increasing prenatal screening coverage was the single most effective strategy for the reduction of congenital syphilis, but neither this strategy alone nor implementation of the whole NPSC strategy achieved the plan's target outcomes. By contrast, a four-pronged approach (95% coverage of prenatal screening, 75% of screening during the first two-thirds of pregnancy, 95% treatment completion, and having an accurate screening test) reduced the estimated incidence of congenital syphilis cases to 27 per 100,000 live births.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that although the NSCP is a strong foundation for control of congenital syphilis in China, more comprehensive measures will be needed to reach the plan's policy goals. In particular, the findings suggest that earlier and more extensive screening will be needed to reduce the incidence of congenital syphilis to below 30 cases per 100,000 live births, WHO's benchmark for congenital syphilis control. The accuracy of these findings is limited by the assumptions included in the model and by the data fed into it. Moreover, because the data included in the model came from Guangdong Province, these findings may not apply elsewhere in China or in other countries. Nevertheless, this study illustrates the importance of using multi-pronged approaches to address the complex problem of congenital syphilis control and identifies some strategies that are likely to improve the control of this important public health problem.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001375.
The World Health Organization provides information on sexually transmitted infections, including details of its strategy for the global elimination of congenital syphilis, the investment case for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of syphilis, and regional updates on progress towards elimination (some information is available in several languages)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet on syphilis
The UK National Health Service Choices website also has a page on syphilis
MedlinePlus provides information on congenital syphilis and links to additional syphilis resources (in English and Spanish)
Haiti: Congenital Syphilis on the Way Out is a YouTube video describing the introduction of rapid diagnostic tests for syphilis in remote parts of Haiti
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001375
PMCID: PMC3551934  PMID: 23349624
20.  The Influence of Distance and Level of Care on Delivery Place in Rural Zambia: A Study of Linked National Data in a Geographic Information System 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(1):e1000394.
Using linked national data in a geographic information system system, Sabine Gabrysch and colleagues investigate the effects of distance to care and level of care on women's use of health facilities for delivery in rural Zambia.
Background
Maternal and perinatal mortality could be reduced if all women delivered in settings where skilled attendants could provide emergency obstetric care (EmOC) if complications arise. Research on determinants of skilled attendance at delivery has focussed on household and individual factors, neglecting the influence of the health service environment, in part due to a lack of suitable data. The aim of this study was to quantify the effects of distance to care and level of care on women's use of health facilities for delivery in rural Zambia, and to compare their population impact to that of other important determinants.
Methods and Findings
Using a geographic information system (GIS), we linked national household data from the Zambian Demographic and Health Survey 2007 with national facility data from the Zambian Health Facility Census 2005 and calculated straight-line distances. Health facilities were classified by whether they provided comprehensive EmOC (CEmOC), basic EmOC (BEmOC), or limited or substandard services. Multivariable multilevel logistic regression analyses were performed to investigate the influence of distance to care and level of care on place of delivery (facility or home) for 3,682 rural births, controlling for a wide range of confounders. Only a third of rural Zambian births occurred at a health facility, and half of all births were to mothers living more than 25 km from a facility of BEmOC standard or better. As distance to the closest health facility doubled, the odds of facility delivery decreased by 29% (95% CI, 14%–40%). Independently, each step increase in level of care led to 26% higher odds of facility delivery (95% CI, 7%–48%). The population impact of poor geographic access to EmOC was at least of similar magnitude as that of low maternal education, household poverty, or lack of female autonomy.
Conclusions
Lack of geographic access to emergency obstetric care is a key factor explaining why most rural deliveries in Zambia still occur at home without skilled care. Addressing geographic and quality barriers is crucial to increase service use and to lower maternal and perinatal mortality. Linking datasets using GIS has great potential for future research and can help overcome the neglect of health system factors in research and policy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Approximately 360,000 women die each year in pregnancy and childbirth, of which more than 200,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, where a woman's lifetime risk of dying during or following pregnancy remains as high as 1 in 31 (compared to 1 in 4,300 in the developed world). The target of Millennium Development Goal 5 is to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters by 2015. Most maternal and neonatal deaths in low-income countries could be prevented if all women delivered their babies in settings where skilled birth attendants (such as midwives) were available and could provide emergency obstetric care to both mothers and babies in case of complications. Yet every year roughly 50 million women give birth at home without skilled care.
Why was this study done?
The likelihood of a woman giving birth in a health facility under the care of a skilled birth attendant depends on many factors. These include characteristics of the mother and her family, such as education level and household wealth, and aspects of the health service environment—distance to the nearest health facility and the quality of care provided at that facility, for example. However, research to date has typically focused on household and individual factors, neglecting the influence of the health service environment on choice of delivery place, largely because suitable data was not available. In this study in rural Zambia, the researchers aimed to quantify the effects of the health service environment, namely distance to health care and the level of care provided, on pregnant women's use of health facilities for giving birth. To put these factors in context, the researchers compared the impact of distance to quality care on place of delivery to that of other important factors, such as poverty and education.
What did the researchers do and find?
Using a geographic information system (GIS), the researchers linked national household data (from the 2007 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey) with national facility data (from the 2005 Zambian Health Facility Census) and calculated straight-line distances between women's villages and health facilities. Health facilities were classified as providing comprehensive emergency obstetric care, basic emergency obstetric care, or limited or substandard services by using reported capability to perform a certain number of the eight emergency obstetric care signal functions: injectable antibiotics, injectable oxytocics, injectable anticonvulsants, manual removal of placenta, manual removal of retained products, assisted vaginal delivery, cesarean section, and blood transfusion, as well as criteria on staffing, opening hours and referral capacity. The researchers used data from 3,682 rural births and multivariable multilevel logistic regression analyses to investigate whether distance to, and level of care at the closest delivery facility influence place of delivery (health facility or home), keeping other influential factors constant.
The researchers found that only a third of births in rural Zambia occurred at a health facility, and half of all mothers who gave birth lived more than 25 km from a health facility that provided basic emergency obstetric services. As distance to the closest health facility doubled, the odds of a women giving birth in a health facility decreased by 29%. Independently, each step increase in the level of emergency obstetric care provided at the closest delivery facility led to an increased likelihood (26% higher odds) of a woman delivering her baby at a facility. The researchers estimated that the impact of poor geographic access to emergency obstetric services was of similar magnitude as that of low maternal education, household poverty, or lack of female autonomy.
What do these findings mean?
The results of this study suggest that poor geographic access to emergency obstetric care is a key factor in explaining why most women in rural Zambia still deliver their babies at home without skilled care. Therefore, in order to increase the number of women delivering in health facilities and thus reduce maternal and neonatal mortality, it is crucial to address the geographic and quality barriers to delivery service use. Furthermore, the methodology used in this study—linking datasets using GIS— has great potential for future research as it can help explore the influence of health system factors also for other health problems.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000394.
Information about emergency obstetric care is provided by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Various topics on maternal health are presented by WHO, WHO Regional Office Africa, by UNPFA, and UNICEF
WHO offers detailed information about MDG5
Family Care International offers more information about maternal and neonatal health
The Averting Maternal Death and Disability program (AMDD) provides information on needs assessments of emergency obstetric and newborn care
Countdown to 2015 tracks progress in maternal, newborn, and child survival
WHO provides free online viewing of BBC Fight for Life videos describing delivery experiences in different countries
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000394
PMCID: PMC3026699  PMID: 21283606
21.  Building on safety, feasibility, and acceptability: the impact and cost of community health worker provision of injectable contraception 
This project in Zambia contributes to our understanding of the impact of community-based provision of injectables on method choice and uptake and of the costs of adding DMPA to an established community-based family planning program. The project also illustrates the importance of involving stakeholders from the outset, analyzing costs relevant to scale up, and engaging in policy change dialogue not at the end, but rather throughout project implementation.
This project in Zambia contributes to our understanding of the impact of community-based provision of injectables on method choice and uptake and of the costs of adding DMPA to an established community-based family planning program. The project also illustrates the importance of involving stakeholders from the outset, analyzing costs relevant to scale up, and engaging in policy change dialogue not at the end, but rather throughout project implementation.
ABSTRACT
Background:
A critical shortage of doctors, nurses, and midwives in many sub-Saharan African countries inhibits efforts to expand access to family planning services, especially in rural areas. One way to fill this gap is for community health workers (CHWs) to provide injectable contraceptives, an intervention for which there is growing evidence and international support. In 2009, with approval from the Government of Zambia (GoZ), FHI 360 collaborated with ChildFund Zambia to design and implement such an intervention as part of its existing CHW family planning program.
Methods:
The safety of CHW provision of injectable DMPA (depot medroxyprogesterone acetate) was measured by client reports and by a 21-item structured observation checklist. Feasibility and acceptability were measured by interviews with CHWs and a subset of DMPA clients. The impact of adding DMPA to pill and condom provision was assessed by family planning uptake among the clients of trained CHWs from February 2010 to February 2011. Costs were documented using spreadsheets over the period November 2009 to February 2011.
Results:
Scores were high on all measures of safety, feasibility, and acceptability. Couple-years of protection (CYP, protection from pregnancy for 1 year) was provided to 51 condom clients, 391 pill clients, and 2,206 DMPA clients. Of the 1,739 clients new to family planning, 85% chose injectable DMPA, while 13% chose pills and 2% chose condoms. Continuation rates were also high, at 63% after 1 year as compared with 47% for pill users. Incremental costs per couple-year were US$21.24 if 50% of users continue with CHW-provided DMPA.
Conclusion:
The study affirms that the provision of injectable contraceptives by CHWs is safe, acceptable, and feasible in the Zambian context, with very high rates of uptake in hard-to-reach areas. High continuation rates among clients mean that costs of the intervention can be low when added to an existing community-based distribution program—a finding that is relevant to program replication (now underway in Zambia).
doi:10.9745/GHSP-D-13-00025
PMCID: PMC4168589  PMID: 25276547
22.  International medical graduates in the USA: a qualitative study on perceptions of physician migration 
BMJ Open  2011;1(2):e000138.
Objectives
Physician migration from low-income to high-income nations is a global concern. Despite the centrality of understanding the perspectives of international medical graduates (IMGs) who have experienced migration to understanding the causes and consequences of this phenomenon, empirical literature is limited. The authors sought to characterise the experiences of IMGs from limited resource nations currently practicing primary care in the USA, with a focus on their perspectives on physician migration.
Design
The authors conducted a qualitative study utilising in-depth, in-person interviews and a standardised interview guide. The sample comprised a diverse, purposeful sample of IMGs (n=25) from limited resource nations (defined as having ≤2 physicians per 1000 population).
Results
Analyses revealed four recurrent and unifying themes reflecting the perspectives of IMGs in the USA on physician migration: (1) decisions to migrate were pragmatic decisions made in the context of individual circumstance; (2) the act of migration ultimately affected participants' ability to return home in multiple, unpredictable ways; (3) the ongoing process of acclimation was coupled with inherent conflicts surrounding the decision to remain in the USA; and (4) the effects of policies in both the home country and in the USA occurred at multiple levels.
Conclusion
The perspectives of IMGs who have migrated to the USA are an important addition to the ongoing discussion surrounding the global health workforce. Our findings highlight the effects of workforce policies which are often developed and discussed in abstraction, but have real, measurable impacts on the lives of individuals. Future efforts to address physician migration will need to acknowledge the immediate needs of the health workforce as well as the long-term needs of individuals within health systems.
Article summary
Article focus
International medical graduates (IMGs) play a significant role in the health workforce in many nations.
Prior literature has largely limited the consideration of physician migration to isolated factors such as financial pressures in the home country or expanded training opportunities in the USA.
The experiences and perspectives of IMGs have not been included in current discussions surrounding physician migration.
Key messages
Physician migration is influenced by multi-faceted aspects of experience including individual, environmental and political factors.
IMGs report that both local and global health workforce policies have an impact on their personal and professional lives.
A comprehensive understanding of physician migration is essential to the development of effective and appropriate solutions for global health workforce challenges.
Strengths and limitations of this study
Participants were diverse with regard to age, specialty, geographical regions of origin and years of clinical experience in the USA.
The study utilised recommended strategies to ensure rigour.
The high participation rate suggests this is an issue IMGs are motivated to discuss despite the potentially personal and sensitive nature of the topic.
As a qualitative study, the hypotheses generated should be tested with larger, quantitative studies.
The study was geographically circumscribed to metropolitan regions. Other regions, particularly rural areas, may present a substantially different environment and experience.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000138
PMCID: PMC3191587  PMID: 22021871
23.  Views of Young People in Rural Australia on SPARX, a Fantasy World Developed for New Zealand Youth With Depression 
JMIR Serious Games  2014;2(1):e3.
Background
A randomized control trial demonstrated that a computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (cCBT) program (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts [SPARX]) was an appealing and efficacious treatment for depression for adolescents in New Zealand. Little is known about the acceptability of computerized therapy programs for rural Australians and the suitability of computerized programs developed in one cultural context when used in another country. Issues such as accents and local differences in health care access might mean adjustments to programs are required.
Objective
This study sought to explore the acceptability of SPARX by youth in rural Australia and to explore whether and how young people would wish to access such a program.
Methods
Focus groups and semistructured interviews were conducted with 16 young people attending two youth-focused community services in a small, rural Tasmanian town. An inductive data-driven approach was used to identify themes using the interview transcripts as the primary data source. Interpretation was supported by demographic data, observer notes, and content analysis.
Results
Participants reported that young people want help for mental health issues but they have an even stronger need for controlling how they access services. In particular, they considered protecting their privacy in their small community to be paramount. Participants thought computerized therapy was a promising way to increase access to treatment for youth in rural and remote areas if offered with or without therapist support and via settings other than school. The design features of SPARX that were perceived to be useful, included the narrative structure of the program, the use of different characters, the personalization of an avatar, “socialization” with the Guide character, optional journaling, and the use of encouraging feedback. Participants did not consider (New Zealand) accents off-putting. Young people believed the SPARX program would appeal to those who play computer games generally, but may be less appealing for those who do not.
Conclusions
The findings suggest that computerized therapy offered in ways that support privacy and choice can improve access to treatment for rural youth. Foreign accents and style may not be off-putting to teenage users when the program uses a playful fantasy genre, as it is consistent with their expectation of fantasy worlds, and it is in a medium with which they already have a level of competence. Rather, issues of engaging design and confidential access appeared to be more important. These findings suggest a proven tool once formally assessed at a local level can be adopted cross-nationally.
doi:10.2196/games.3183
PMCID: PMC4307819  PMID: 25659116
mental health; stigma; computer games; youth; rural health, computerized CBT
24.  Primary health care delivery models in rural and remote Australia – a systematic review 
Background
One third of all Australians live outside of its major cities. Access to health services and health outcomes are generally poorer in rural and remote areas relative to metropolitan areas. In order to improve access to services, many new programs and models of service delivery have been trialled since the first National Rural Health Strategy in 1994. Inadequate evaluation of these initiatives has resulted in failure to garner knowledge, which would facilitate the establishment of evidence-based service models, sustain and systematise them over time and facilitate transfer of successful programs. This is the first study to systematically review the available published literature describing innovative models of comprehensive primary health care (PHC) in rural and remote Australia since the development of the first National Rural Health Strategy (1993–2006). The study aimed to describe what health service models were reported to work, where they worked and why.
Methods
A reference group of experts in rural health assisted in the development and implementation of the study. Peer-reviewed publications were identified from the relevant electronic databases. 'Grey' literature was identified pragmatically from works known to the researchers, reference lists and from relevant websites. Data were extracted and synthesised from papers meeting inclusion criteria.
Results
A total of 5391 abstracts were reviewed. Data were extracted finally from 76 'rural' and 17 'remote' papers. Synthesis of extracted data resulted in a typology of models with five broad groupings: discrete services, integrated services, comprehensive PHC, outreach models and virtual outreach models. Different model types assume prominence with increasing remoteness and decreasing population density. Whilst different models suit different locations, a number of 'environmental enablers' and 'essential service requirements' are common across all model types.
Conclusion
Synthesised data suggest that, moving away from Australian coastal population centres, sustainable models are able to address diseconomies of scale which result from large distances and small dispersed populations. Based on the service requirements and enablers derived from analysis of reported successful PHC service models, we have developed a conceptual framework that is particularly useful in underpinning the development of sustainable PHC models in rural and remote communities.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-8-276
PMCID: PMC2642801  PMID: 19114003
25.  Health systems research in the time of health system reform in India: a review 
Background
Research on health systems is an important contributor to improving health system performance. Importantly, research on program and policy implementation can also create a culture of public accountability. In the last decade, significant health system reforms have been implemented in India. These include strengthening the public sector health system through the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), and expansion of government-sponsored insurance schemes for the poor. This paper provides a situation analysis of health systems research during the reform period.
Methods
We reviewed 9,477 publications between 2005 and 2013 in two online databases, PubMed and IndMED. Articles were classified according to the WHO classification of health systems building blocks.
Results
Our findings indicate the number of publications on health systems progressively increased every year from 92 in 2006 to 314 in 2012. The majority of papers were on service delivery (40%), with fewer on information (16%), medical technology and vaccines (15%), human resources (11%), governance (5%), and financing (8%). Around 70% of articles were lead by an author based in India, the majority by authors located in only four states. Several states, particularly in eastern and northeastern India, did not have a single paper published by a lead author located in a local institution. Moreover, many of these states were not the subject of a single published paper. Further, a few select institutions produced the bulk of research. Of the foreign author lead papers, 77% came from five countries (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland).
Conclusions
The growth of published research during the reform period in India is a positive development. However, bulk of this research is produced in a few states and by a few select institutions Further strengthening health systems research requires attention to neglected health systems domains like human resources, financing, and governance. Importantly, research capacity needs to be strengthened in states and institutions that have a scarcity of researchers, as well as states that have been the focus of little research. While more funding for health systems research is required, this funding needs to be targeted at deficient health systems domains, geographical areas, and institutions.
doi:10.1186/1478-4505-12-37
PMCID: PMC4134119  PMID: 25106759

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