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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 
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC3368922  PMID: 22436650
Rural; Remote; Regional; Allied health; Disability; Workforce; Retention; Policy; Service provision; Access
2.  General practitioner (family physician) workforce in Australia: comparing geographic data from surveys, a mailing list and medicare 
Good quality spatial data on Family Physicians or General Practitioners (GPs) are key to accurately measuring geographic access to primary health care. The validity of computed associations between health outcomes and measures of GP access such as GP density is contingent on geographical data quality. This is especially true in rural and remote areas, where GPs are often small in number and geographically dispersed. However, there has been limited effort in assessing the quality of nationally comprehensive, geographically explicit, GP datasets in Australia or elsewhere.
Our objective is to assess the extent of association or agreement between different spatially explicit nationwide GP workforce datasets in Australia. This is important since disagreement would imply differential relationships with primary healthcare relevant outcomes with different datasets. We also seek to enumerate these associations across categories of rurality or remoteness.
We compute correlations of GP headcounts and workload contributions between four different datasets at two different geographical scales, across varying levels of rurality and remoteness.
The datasets are in general agreement with each other at two different scales. Small numbers of absolute headcounts, with relatively larger fractions of locum GPs in rural areas cause unstable statistical estimates and divergences between datasets.
In the Australian context, many of the available geographic GP workforce datasets may be used for evaluating valid associations with health outcomes. However, caution must be exercised in interpreting associations between GP headcounts or workloads and outcomes in rural and remote areas. The methods used in these analyses may be replicated in other locales with multiple GP or physician datasets.
PMCID: PMC3766700  PMID: 24005003
Primary health care; Geographical information systems (GIS); Spatial; Mailing lists; General practitioner (GP); Family physician; Data quality
3.  A technical framework for costing health workforce retention schemes in remote and rural areas 
Increasing the availability of health workers in remote and rural areas through improved health workforce recruitment and retention is crucial to population health. However, information about the costs of such policy interventions often appears incomplete, fragmented or missing, despite its importance for the sound selection, planning, implementation and evaluation of these policies. This lack of a systematic approach to costing poses a serious challenge for strong health policy decisions.
This paper proposes a framework for carrying out a costing analysis of interventions to increase the availability of health workers in rural and remote areas with the aim to help policy decision makers. It also underlines the importance of identifying key sources of financing and of assessing financial sustainability.
The paper reviews the evidence on costing interventions to improve health workforce recruitment and retention in remote and rural areas, provides guidance to undertake a costing evaluation of such interventions and investigates the role and importance of costing to inform the broader assessment of how to improve health workforce planning and management.
We show that while the debate on the effectiveness of policies and strategies to improve health workforce retention is gaining impetus and attention, there is still a significant lack of knowledge and evidence about the associated costs. To address the concerns stemming from this situation, key elements of a framework to undertake a cost analysis are proposed and discussed.
These key elements should help policy makers gain insight into the costs of policy interventions, to clearly identify and understand their financing sources and mechanisms, and to ensure their sustainability.
PMCID: PMC3094273  PMID: 21470420
4.  Isolated rural general practice as the focus for teaching core clinical rotations to pre-registration medical students 
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.
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.
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.
The results suggest that isolated rural general practice could provide a more substantial role in medical student education.
PMCID: PMC1180439  PMID: 15982418
5.  Primary health care delivery models in rural and remote Australia – a systematic review 
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.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC2642801  PMID: 19114003
6.  Perceived Differences in the Management of Mental Health Patients in Remote and Rural Australia and Strategies for Improvement: Findings from a National Qualitative Study of Emergency Clinicians 
Introduction. We aimed to describe perceptions of Australian emergency clinicians of differences in management of mental health patients in rural and remote Australia compared with metropolitan hospitals, and what could be improved. Methods. Descriptive exploratory study using semi-structured telephone interviews of doctors and nurses in Australian emergency departments (EDs), stratified to represent states and territories and rural or metropolitan location. Content analysis of responses developed themes and sub-themes. Results. Of 39 doctors and 32 nurses responding to email invitation, 20 doctors and 16 nurses were interviewed. Major themes were resources/environment, staff and patient issues. Clinicians noted lack of access in rural areas to psychiatric support services, especially alcohol and drug services, limited referral options, and a lack of knowledge, understanding and acceptance of mental health issues. The clinicians suggested resource, education and guideline improvements, wanting better access to mental health experts in rural areas, better support networks and visiting specialist coverage, and educational courses tailored to the needs of rural clinicians. Conclusion. Clinicians managing mental health patients in rural and remote Australian EDs lack resources, support services and referral capacity, and access to appropriate education and training. Improvements would better enable access to support and referral services, and educational opportunities.
PMCID: PMC3195330  PMID: 22046553
7.  Infrastructure for Reaching Disadvantaged Consumers 
Both consumers and health service providers need access to up-to-date information, including patient and practice guidelines, that allows them to make decisions in partnership about individual and public health in line with the primary health care model of health service delivery. Only then is it possible for patient preferences to be considered while the health of the general population is improved. The Commonwealth Government of Australia has allocated $250 million over five years, starting July 1, 1997, to support activities and projects designed to meet a range of telecommunication needs in regional, rural, and remote Australia. This paper defines rural and remote communities, then reviews rural and remote health services, information, and telecommunication technology infrastructures and their use in Australia to establish the current state of access to information tools by rural and remote communities and rural health workers in Australia today. It is argued that a suitable telecommunication infrastructure is needed to reach disadvantaged persons in extremely remote areas and that intersectoral support is essential to build this infrastructure. In addition, education will make its utilization possible.
PMCID: PMC61301  PMID: 9609497
8.  Where do students in the health professions want to work? 
Rural and remote areas of Australia are facing serious health workforce shortages. While a number of schemes have been developed to improve recruitment to and retention of the rural health workforce, they will be effective only if appropriately targeted. This study examines the factors that most encourage students attending rural clinical placements to work in rural Australia, and the regions they prefer.
The Careers in Rural Health Tracking Survey was used to examine the factors that most influence medical, nursing and allied health students' preference for practice locations and the locations preferred.
Students showed a preference for working in large urban centres within one year, but would consider moving to a more rural location later in life. Only 10% of students surveyed said they would never work in a rural community with a population of less than 10 000. Almost half the sample (45%) reported wanting to work overseas within five years. The type of work available in rural areas was found to be the factor most likely to encourage students to practice rurally, followed by career opportunities and challenge
The decision to practise rurally is the result of a complex interaction between a number of factors including ethnicity, discipline, age and sex, among others. Incentives that aim to entice all students to rural practice while considering only one of these variables are likely to be inadequate.
PMCID: PMC2746176  PMID: 19686605
9.  Uses of population census data for monitoring geographical imbalance in the health workforce: snapshots from three developing countries 
Imbalance in the distribution of human resources for health (HRH), eventually leading to inequities in health services delivery and population health outcomes, is an issue of social and political concern in many countries. However, the empirical evidence to support decision-making is often fragmented, and many standard data sources that can potentially produce statistics relevant to the issue remain underused, especially in developing countries. This study investigated the uses of demographic census data for monitoring geographical imbalance in the health workforce for three developing countries, as a basis for formulation of evidence-based health policy options.
Population-based indicators of geographical variations among HRH were extracted from census microdata samples for Kenya, Mexico and Viet Nam. Health workforce statistics were matched against international standards of occupational classification to control for cross-national comparability. Summary measures of inequality were calculated to monitor the distribution of health workers across spatial units and by occupational group.
Strong inequalities were found in the geographical distribution of the health workforce in all three countries, with the highest densities of HRH tending to be found in the capital areas. Cross-national differences were found in the magnitude of distributional inequality according to occupational group, with health professionals most susceptible to inequitable distribution in Kenya and Viet Nam but less so in Mexico compared to their associate professional counterparts. Some discrepancies were suggested between mappings of occupational information from the raw data with the international system, especially for nursing and midwifery specializations.
The problem of geographical imbalance among HRH across countries in the developing world holds important implications at the local, national and international levels, in terms of constraints for the effective deployment, management and retention of HRH, and ultimately for the equitable delivery of health services. A number of advantages were revealed of using census data in health research, notably the potential for producing detailed statistics on health workforce characteristics at the sub-national level. However, lack of consistency in the compilation and processing of occupational information over time and across countries continues to hamper comparative analyses for HRH policy monitoring and evaluation.
PMCID: PMC324414  PMID: 14697099
10.  The cost associated with administering risperidone long-acting injections in the Australian community 
Risperidone long-acting injection (LAI) is mostly administered twice weekly to people with schizophrenia by nurses at community mental health centres (CMHC) or through mobile outreach visits. This study estimates the cost of resource utilisation associated with the administration of risperidone LAI and the potential savings from substituting two-weekly injections with a longer interval product of therapeutic equivalence.
A survey of mental health staff overseeing the administration of risperidone LAI at 253 distinct Australian CMHCs was undertaken in November 2009. For the two-week period prior to the survey, respondents were asked questions on injection time (and related tasks) and, for mobile outreach visits, distance and time travelled as well as reduction in visits. Results were stratified by Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) region. Resource use was quantified and valued in Australian dollars.
Results are derived from 74 CMHCs, representing approximately 26% of the national average risperidone LAI unit two-week sales. Stratified average injection time (including related tasks) for risperidone LAI ranged from 18-29 minutes, with a national average of 20.12 minutes. For mobile outreach visits, average distance per patient ranged from 19.4 to 55.5 km for One Staff Visits and 15.2 to 218.1 km for More Than One Staff Visits, and average time travelled ranged from 34.1 to 54.5 minutes for One Staff Visits and 29.2 to 136.3 minutes for More Than One Staff visits. The upper range consistently reflected greater resource utilisation in rural areas compared to urban areas. If administration of risperidone LAI had not been required, 20% fewer mobile outreach visits would have occurred.
The national average saving per two-weekly risperidone long-acting injection avoided is $75.14. In 2009 in Australia, this would have saved ~$11 million for injection administration costs alone if all patients taking two-weekly risperidone LAI had instead been treated with a therapeutically equivalent long-acting injectable antipsychotic requiring one less injection per month.
PMCID: PMC3189877  PMID: 21943060
11.  Acute coronary syndrome in Australia: Where are we now and where are we going? 
The Australasian Medical Journal  2014;7(3):149-156.
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.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC3973927  PMID: 24719650
ACS; rural; metropolitan; Australia; outcomes
12.  Attitudes toward working in rural areas of Thai medical, dental and pharmacy new graduates in 2012: a cross-sectional survey 
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.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC3817458  PMID: 24148109
Medical graduate; Dental graduate; Pharmacy graduate; Medical education; Supply and distribution; Attitude of health personnel; Rural distribution
13.  The index of rural access: an innovative integrated approach for measuring primary care access 
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.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC2720961  PMID: 19624859
14.  Assisting role redesign: a qualitative evaluation of the implementation of a podiatry assistant role to a community health setting utilising a traineeship approach 
Increasing demands for podiatry combined with workforce shortages due to attrition, part-time working practices and rural healthcare shortages means that in some geographic areas in Australia there are insufficient professionals to meet service demand. Although podiatry assistants have been introduced to help relieve workforce shortages there has been little evaluation of their impact on patient, staff and/or service outcomes. This research explores the processes and outcomes of a ‘trainee’ approach to introducing a podiatry assistant (PA) role to a community setting in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government Health Service Directorate.
A qualitative methodology was employed involving interviews and focus groups with service managers, qualified practitioners, the assistant, service users and consumer representatives. Perspectives of the implementation process; the traineeship approach; the underlying mechanisms that help or hinder the implementation process; and the perceived impact of the role were explored. Data were analysed using the Richie and Spencer Framework approach.
Although the impact of the PA role had not been measured at the time of the evaluation, the implementation of the PA traineeship was considered a success in terms of enabling the transfer of a basic foot-care service from nursing back to podiatry; releasing Enrolled Nurses (ENs) from foot-care duties; an increase in the number of treatments delivered by the podiatry service; and high levels of stakeholder satisfaction with the role. It was perceived that the transfer of the basic foot-care role from nursing to podiatry through the use of a PA impacted on communication and feedback loops between the PA and the podiatry service; the nursing-podiatry relationship; clinical governance around the foot-care service; and continuity of care for clients through the podiatry service. The traineeship was considered successful in terms of producing a PA whose skills were shaped by and directly met the needs of the practitioners with whom they worked. However, the resource intensiveness of the traineeship model was acknowledged by most who participated in the programme.
This research has demonstrated that the implementation of a PA using a traineeship approach requires good coordination and communication with a number of agencies and staff and substantial resources to support training and supervision. There are added benefits of the new role to the podiatry service in terms of regaining control over podiatric services which was perceived to improve clinical governance and patient pathways.
PMCID: PMC3544652  PMID: 23181834
15.  Study protocol: Evaluating the impact of a rural Australian primary health care service on rural health 
Rural communities throughout Australia are experiencing demographic ageing, increasing burden of chronic diseases, and de-population. Many are struggling to maintain viable health care services due to lack of infrastructure and workforce shortages. Hence, they face significant health disadvantages compared with urban regions. Primary health care yields the best health outcomes in situations characterised by limited resources. However, few rigorous longitudinal evaluations have been conducted to systematise them; assess their transferability; or assess sustainability amidst dynamic health policy environments. This paper describes the study protocol of a comprehensive longitudinal evaluation of a successful primary health care service in a small rural Australian community to assess its performance, sustainability, and responsiveness to changing community needs and health system requirements.
The evaluation framework aims to examine the health service over a six-year period in terms of: (a) Structural domains (health service performance; sustainability; and quality of care); (b) Process domains (health service utilisation and satisfaction); and (c) Outcome domains (health behaviours, health outcomes and community viability). Significant international research guided the development of unambiguous reliable indicators for each domain that can be routinely and unobtrusively collected. Data are to be collected and analysed for trends from a range of sources: audits, community surveys, interviews and focus group discussions.
This iterative evaluation framework and methodology aims to ensure the ongoing monitoring of service activity and health outcomes that allows researchers, providers and administrators to assess the extent to which health service objectives are met; the factors that helped or hindered achievements; what worked or did not work well and why; what aspects of the service could be improved and how; what benefits have been realised and for whom; the level of community satisfaction with the service; and the impact of a health service on community viability. While the need to reduce the rural-urban health service disparity in Australia is pressing, the evidence regarding how to move forward is inadequate. This comprehensive evaluation will add significant new knowledge regarding the characteristics associated with a sustainable rural primary health care service.
PMCID: PMC3056757  PMID: 21356123
16.  Eligibility, the ICF and the UN Convention: Australian perspectives 
BMC Public Health  2011;11(Suppl 4):S6.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in Australia, acts as a philosophical and moral statement and framework guiding integrated and strategic policy across the nation. Broad policy agreement has been reached by governments, and both the government and non-government sectors are developing strategies for implementation or evaluation. There is however a need for a more integrated approach to disability policy and information, reflecting all three components of the Italian project:
• legislation and a high level philosophical framework and policy guide;
• a technical framework that can underpin specific policies and programs aiming to achieve the major goals; and ,
• a language and set of tools, relating to both the above, that provide infrastructure for assessment methods and information systems.
The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) is the ideal tool to support the latter two components, consistent with the UN Convention. While the ICF has been used as the basis for national data standards, in population surveys and in the national data collection on disability support services, there is considerable scope for greater use of it, including using all domains of the Activities and Participation and the Environmental Factors component for policy, information and service provision, to advance a disability-inclusive society. Information available from the income support system and from generic services could be enhanced by reference to the ICF components. It would be of significant national value in Australia, especially as a ‘continuum of care’ is desired, if consistency of concepts and information were expanded across health and social welfare sectors. It would then be possible to obtain consistent data from health, aged care, disability and community services systems about key aspects of health and functioning, building a consolidated picture of access and experience across these sectors. Without attention to all three components of the Italian project and continuing effort to meet the challenges identified in this paper, it will not be possible to determine whether the goals of Australia’s National Disability Agreement or the ambitions of the Convention are achieved.
PMCID: PMC3104219  PMID: 21624192
17.  Evaluating health policy capacity: Learning from international and Australian experience 
The health sector in Australia faces major challenges that include an ageing population, spiralling health care costs, continuing poor Aboriginal health, and emerging threats to public health. At the same time, the environment for policy-making is becoming increasingly complex. In this context, strong policy capacity – broadly understood as the capacity of government to make "intelligent choices" between policy options – is essential if governments and societies are to address the continuing and emerging problems effectively.
This paper explores the question: "What are the factors that contribute to policy capacity in the health sector?" In the absence of health sector-specific research on this topic, a review of Australian and international public sector policy capacity research was undertaken. Studies from the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia were analysed to identify common themes in the research findings. This paper discusses these policy capacity studies in relation to context, models and methods for policy capacity research, elements of policy capacity and recommendations for building capacity.
Based on this analysis, the paper discusses the organisational and individual factors that are likely to contribute to health policy capacity, highlights the need for further research in the health sector and points to some of the conceptual and methodological issues that need to be taken into consideration in such research.
PMCID: PMC2657149  PMID: 19245704
18.  What primary health care services should residents of rural and remote Australia be able to access? A systematic review of “core” primary health care services 
There are significant health status inequalities in Australia between those people living in rural and remote locations and people living in metropolitan centres. Since almost ninety percent of the population use some form of primary health care service annually, a logical initial step in reducing the disparity in health status is to improve access to health care by specifying those primary health care services that should be considered as “core” and therefore readily available to all Australians regardless of where they live. A systematic review was undertaken to define these “core” services.
Using the question “What primary health care services should residents of rural and remote Australia be able to access?”, the objective of this paper is to delineate those primary health care core services that should be readily available to all regardless of geography.
A systematic review of peer-reviewed literature from established databases was undertaken. Relevant websites were also searched for grey literature. Key informants were accessed to identify other relevant reference material. All papers were assessed by at least two assessors according to agreed inclusion criteria.
Data were extracted from 19 papers (7 papers from the peer-reviewed database search and 12 from other grey sources) which met the inclusion criteria. The 19 papers demonstrated substantial variability in both the number and nature of core services. Given this variation, the specification or synthesis of a universal set of core services proved to be a complex and arguably contentious task. Nonetheless, the different primary health care dimensions that should be met through the provision of core services were developed. In addition, the process of identifying core services provided important insights about the need to deliver these services in ways that are “fit-for–purpose” in widely differing geographic contexts.
Defining a suite of core primary health care services is a difficult process. Such a suite should be fit-for-purpose, relevant to the context, and its development should be methodologically clear, appropriate, and evidence-based. The value of identifying core PHC services to both consumers and providers for service planning and monitoring and consequent health outcomes is paramount.
PMCID: PMC3663724  PMID: 23683166
Primary health care; Core services; Access; Equity; Rural and remote
19.  Attraction, recruitment and distribution of health professionals in rural and remote Australia: early results of the Rural Health Professionals Program 
Australians living in rural and remote communities experience relatively poor health status in comparison to the wider Australian population (Med J Aust 185:37-38, 2006). This can be attributed in part to issues of access to health services arising from difficulties in recruiting and retaining health professionals in these areas. The Rural Health Professionals Program is an initiative designed to increase the number of allied health and nursing professionals in rural and remote Australia by providing case managed recruitment and retention support services. This paper reports on early analysis of available programme data to build knowledge of factors related to the recruitment and distribution of health professionals in rural and remote Australia.
Administrative programme data were collected monthly from 349 health professionals over the first 13 months of programme operation. These data were collated and quantitative analysis was conducted using SPSS software.
Sixty-nine percent of recruits were women, and recruits had a mean age of 32.85 (SD = 10.92). Sixty percent of recruits were domestically trained, and the top two professions recruited were nurses (29%) and physiotherapists (21%). Eighty-seven percent were recruited to regional areas, with the remaining 13% recruited to remote areas. Among reasons for interest in the programme, financial support factors were most commonly cited by recruits (51%). Recruitment to a remote location was associated with being domestically trained, having previously lived in a rural or remote location, being a nurse (as opposed to an allied health professional) and older age.
The findings provide early support for a case managed recruitment programme to improve distribution of health professionals, and some directions for future marketing and promotion of the programme. It is recommended that an outcome evaluation be conducted to determine the impact of the programme on recruitment and distribution outcomes.
The findings herein begin to address gaps in the literature relating to the effectiveness of interventions to improve the distribution of health professionals. While this provides some preliminary indication that case managed recruitment and retention programmes have capacity to improve distribution, further research and evaluation is required to confirm the impact of the programme on retention.
PMCID: PMC3973976  PMID: 24602181
Rural and remote health workforce; Nursing; Allied health; Recruitment; Geographic distribution; Australia
20.  Do physicians locate as spatial competition models predict? Evidence from Alberta. 
This article analyses how physicians choose locations of practice in response to spatial competition forces and considers the implications of such choices for public policy to alleviate shortages of practitioners in rural areas. The predicted geographic distribution of physicians, as determined through spatial competition modelling, was compared with the actual distribution of physicians in 1990 among Alberta's 19 census divisions. Physicians were found to respond to spatial competition forces in choosing where to practise, with the qualification that 1 urban patient had a demand weight equal to 2.32 rural patients. A policy to attract more physicians to rural areas by means of income subsidies is technically feasible but expensive. The high cost means that alternative policies such as a bigger and more effective ambulance network to transport patients to medical centres should become the focus of public policies to improve health care in rural areas.
PMCID: PMC1491723  PMID: 8462051
21.  The urban-rural divide in complementary and alternative medicine use: a longitudinal study of 10,638 women 
Research has identified women in rural and remote areas as higher users of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners than their urban counterparts. However, we currently know little about what influences women's CAM consumption across the urban/rural divide. This paper analyses 10,638 women's CAM use across urban and rural Australia.
Data for this research comes from Survey 5 of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health conducted in 2007. The participants were aged 56-61years. The health status and health service use of CAM users and non-users were compared using chi-square tests for categorical variables and t-tests for continuous variables.
Women who consulted a CAM practitioner varied significantly by place of residence: 28%, 32% and 30% for urban, rural and remote areas respectively (P < .005). CAM users tended to be more dissatisfied with conventional care than CAM non-users, but this was consistent across the 3 areas of residence. CAM users have higher percentages of most symptoms but the only rural/urban differences were for severe tiredness, night sweats, depression and anxiety. For diagnosed diseases, CAM users have higher percentages of most diagnoses but only hypertension and skin cancer were statistically significantly higher for rural and remote but not urban women (P < .005).
In contrast to some recent claims, our analysis suggests the lack of access to and/or patient dissatisfaction with conventional health practitioners may not play a central role in explaining higher use of CAM by women in rural and remote areas when compared to women in urban areas.
PMCID: PMC3024269  PMID: 21208458
22.  Nature of association between rural background and practice location: A comparison of general practitioners and specialists 
Rural and remote areas are characterised by a shortage of medical practitioners. Rural background has been shown to be a significant factor associated with medical graduates' intentions and decisions to practise within a rural area, though most studies have only used simple definitions of rural background and not previously looked at specialists. This paper aims to investigate in detail the nature of the association between rural background and practice location of Australian general practitioners (GPs) and specialists
Data for 3156 GPs and 2425 specialists were obtained from the Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL) study. Data on the number of childhood years resident in a rural location and population size of their rural childhood location were matched against current practice location. Logistic regression modelling was used to calculate adjusted associations between doctors in rural practice and rural background, sex and age.
GPs with at least 6 years of their childhood spent in a rural area were significantly more likely than those with 0-5 years in a rural area to be practising in a rural location (OR 2.28, 95% CI 1.69-3.08), whilst only specialists with at least 11 years rural background were significantly more likely to be practising in a rural location (OR 2.27, 95% CI 1.77-2.91). However, for doctors with a rural background, the size of the community that they grew up in was not significantly associated with the size of the community in which they currently practise. Both female GPs and female specialists are similarly much less likely to be practising in a rural location compared with males (GPs: OR 0.53, 95% CI 0.45-0.62).
This study elucidates the association between rural background and rural practice for both GPs and specialists. It follows that increased take-up of rural practice by new graduates requires an increased selection of students with strong rural backgrounds. However, given the considerable under-representation of rural background students in medical schools and the reluctance of females to practise in rural areas, the selection of rural background students is only part of the solution to increasing the supply of rural doctors.
PMCID: PMC3074548  PMID: 21429224
23.  Key factors leading to reduced recruitment and retention of health professionals in remote areas of Ghana: a qualitative study and proposed policy solutions 
The ability of many countries to achieve national health goals such as the Millennium Development Goals remains hindered by inadequate and poorly distributed health personnel, including doctors. The distribution of doctors in Ghana is highly skewed, with a majority serving in two major metropolitan areas (Accra and Kumasi), and inadequate numbers in remote and rural districts. Recent policies increasing health worker salaries have reduced migration of doctors out of Ghana, but made little difference to distribution within the country. This qualitative study was undertaken to understand how practicing doctors and medical leaders in Ghana describe the key factors reducing recruitment and retention of health professionals into remote areas, and to document their proposed policy solutions.
In-depth interviews were carried out with 84 doctors and medical leaders, including 17 regional medical directors and deputy directors from across Ghana, and 67 doctors currently practicing in 3 regions (Greater Accra, Brong Ahafo, and Upper West); these 3 regions were chosen to represent progressively more remote distances from the capital of Accra.
Results and discussion
All participants felt that rural postings must have special career or monetary incentives given the loss of locum (i.e. moonlighting income), the higher workload, and professional isolation of remote assignments. Career 'death' and prolonged rural appointments were a common fear, and proposed policy solutions focused considerably on career incentives, such as guaranteed promotion or a study opportunity after some fixed term of service in a remote or hardship area. There was considerable stress placed on the need for rural doctors to have periodic contact with mentors through rural rotation of specialists, or remote learning centers, and reliable terms of appointment with fixed end-points. Also raised, but given less emphasis, were concerns about the adequacy of clinical equipment in remote facilities, and remote accommodations.
In-depth discussions with doctors suggest that while salary is important, it is career development priorities that are keeping doctors in urban centers. Short-term service in rural areas would be more appealing if it were linked to special mentoring and/or training, and led to career advancement.
PMCID: PMC3127976  PMID: 21600002
24.  Stakeholder perceptions of a nurse led walk-in centre 
As many countries face primary care medical workforce shortages and find it difficult to provide timely and affordable care they seek to find new ways of delivering first point of contact health care through developing new service models. In common with other areas of rural and regional Australia, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is currently experiencing a general practitioner (GP) workforce shortage which impacts significantly on the ability of patients to access GP led primary care services. The introduction of a nurse led primary care Walk-in Centre in the ACT aimed to fulfill an unmet health care need in the community and meet projected demand for health care services as well as relieve pressure on the hospital system. Stakeholders have the potential to influence health service planning and policy, to advise on the potential of services to meet population health needs and to assess how acceptable health service innovation is to key stakeholder groups. This study aimed to ascertain the views of key stakeholders about the Walk-in Centre.
Stakeholders were purposively selected through the identification of individuals and organisations which had organisational or professional contact with the Walk-in Centre. Semi structured interviews around key themes were conducted with seventeen stakeholders.
Stakeholders were generally supportive of the Walk-in Centre but identified key areas which they considered needed to be addressed. These included the service's systems, full utilisation of the nurse practitioner role and adequate education and training. It was also suggested that a doctor could be available to the Centre as a source of referral for patients who fall outside the nurses' scope of practice. The location of the Centre was seen to impact on patient flows to the Emergency Department.
Nurse led Walk-in Centres are one response to addressing primary health care medical workforce shortages. Whilst some stakeholders have reservations about the model others are supportive and see the potential the model has to provide accessible primary health care. Any further developments of nurse-led Walk-in Centres need to take into account the views of key stakeholders so as to ensure that the model is acceptable and sustainable.
PMCID: PMC3529673  PMID: 23126431
25.  Rural Hospital Ownership: Medical Service Provision, Market Mix, and Spillover Effects 
Health Services Research  2011;46(5):1452-1472.
To test whether nonprofit, for-profit, or government hospital ownership affects medical service provision in rural hospital markets, either directly or through the spillover effects of ownership mix.
Data Sources/Study Setting
Data are from the American Hospital Association, U.S. Census, CMS Healthcare Cost Report Information System and Prospective Payment System Minimum Data File, and primary data collection for geographic coordinates. The sample includes all nonfederal, general medical, and surgical hospitals located outside of metropolitan statistical areas and within the continental United States from 1988 to 2005.
Study Design
We estimate multivariate regression models to examine the effects of (1) hospital ownership and (2) hospital ownership mix within rural hospital markets on profitable versus unprofitable medical service offerings.
Principal Findings
Rural nonprofit hospitals are more likely than for-profit hospitals to offer unprofitable services, many of which are underprovided services. Nonprofits respond less than for-profits to changes in service profitability. Nonprofits with more for-profit competitors offer more profitable services and fewer unprofitable services than those with fewer for-profit competitors.
Rural hospital ownership affects medical service provision at the hospital and market levels. Nonprofit hospital regulation should reflect both the direct and spillover effects of ownership.
PMCID: PMC3207187  PMID: 21639860
Hospitals; rural health care; nonprofit; for-profit; hospital markets

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