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.
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.
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.
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.
Primary health care; Equity; Access; Core services; Health service planning; Health policy; Rural; Remote
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.
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.
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.
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.
Australia; Cohort studies; Family physician; Family practice; General practitioner; Health manpower; Health policy; Health workforce; Personnel turnover; Policy making; Primary health care; Retention
MAP2Ks are dual-specificity protein kinases functioning at the center of three-tiered MAP kinase modules. The structure of kinase domain of the MAP2K MEK6 with phosphorylation site mimetic aspartic acid mutations (MEK6/ΔN/DD) has been solved at 2.3 Å resolution. The structure reveals an autoinhibited elongated ellipsoidal dimer. The enzyme adopts an inactive conformation, based upon structural queues, despite the phosphate-mimetic mutations. Gel filtration and small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) analysis confirm that the crystallographically observed ellipsoidal dimer is a feature of MEK6/ΔN/DD and full length unphosphorylated wild-type MEK6 in solution. The interface includes the phosphate binding ribbon of each subunit, part of the activation loop, and a rare “Arginine Stack” between symmetry related arginine residues in the N-terminal lobe. The autoinhibited structure likely confers specificity on active MAP2Ks. The dimer may also serve the function in unphosphorylated MEK6 of preventing activation loop phosphorylation by inappropriate kinases.
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.
Primary health care; Core services; Access; Equity; Rural and remote
Identifying key structural features of cytochromes P450 is critical in understanding the catalytic mechanism of these important drug-metabolizing enzymes. Cytochrome P450BM-3 (BM-3), a structural and mechanistic P450 model, catalyzes the regio- and stereoselective hydroxylation of fatty acids. Recent work has demonstrated the importance of water in the mechanism of BM-3, and site- specific mutagenesis has helped to elucidate mechanisms of substrate recognition, binding, and product formation. One of the amino acids identified as playing a key role in the active site of BM-3 is alanine 328, which is located in the loop between the K helix and β 1–4. In the A328V BM-3 mutant, substrate affinity increases 5 to 10-fold and the turnover number increases 2 to 8-fold compared to wild-type enzyme. Unlike wild-type enzyme, this mutant is purified from E. coli with endogenous substrate bound due to the higher binding affinity. Close examination of the crystal structures of the substrate-bound native and A328V mutant BMPs indicate that the positioning of the substrate is essentially identical in the two forms of the enzyme, with the two valine methyl groups occupying voids present in the active site of the wild-type substrate-bound structure.
Cytochrome P450; Heme; P450BM-3; CYP102A1; Substrate binding; Spin-state; Protein structure
The ability to sustain comprehensive primary health care (PHC) services in the face of change is crucial to the health of rural communities. This paper illustrates how one service has proactively managed change to remain sustainable.
A 6-year longitudinal evaluation of the Elmore Primary Health Service (EPHS) located in rural Victoria, Australia, is currently underway, examining the performance, quality and sustainability of the service. Threats to, and enablers of, sustainability have been identified from evaluation data (audit of service indicators, community surveys, key stakeholder interviews and focus groups) and our own observations. These are mapped against an overarching framework of service sustainability requirements: workforce organisation and supply; funding; governance, management and leadership; service linkages; and infrastructure.
Four years into the evaluation, the evidence indicates EPHS has responded effectively to external and internal changes to ensure viability. The specific steps taken by the service to address risks and capitalise on opportunities are identified.
This evaluation highlights lessons for health service providers, policymakers, consumers and researchers about the importance of ongoing monitoring of sentinel service indicators; being attentive to changes that have an impact on sustainability; maintaining community involvement; and succession planning.
Evidence indicates that people who reside in non-urban areas have a higher use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) than people who reside in urban areas. However, there is sparse research on the reasons for such differences. This paper investigates the reasons for geographical differences in CAM use by comparing CAM users from four geographical areas (major cities, inner regional, outer region, rural/remote) across a range of health status, healthcare satisfaction, neighbourhood and community factors.
A cross-sectional survey of 1,427 participants from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH) conducted in 2009.
The average total cost of consultations with CAM practitioners was $416 per annum and was highest for women in the major cities, declining with increasing distance from capital cities/remoteness (p < 0.001). The average total cost of self-prescribed CAM was $349 per annum, but this did not significantly differ across geographical areas. The increased use of CAM in rural and remote areas appears to be influenced by poorer access to conventional medical care (p < 0.05) and a greater sense of community (p < 0.05) amongst these rural and remote residents. In contrast to the findings of previous research this study found that health status was not associated with the differences in CAM use between urban and non-urban areas.
It appears that a number of factors influence the different levels of CAM use across the urban/non-urban divide. Further research is needed to help tease out and understand these factors. Such research will help support health care policy and practice with regards to this topic.
Surveys of doctors are an important data collection method in health services research. Ways to improve response rates, minimise survey response bias and item non-response, within a given budget, have not previously been addressed in the same study. The aim of this paper is to compare the effects and costs of three different modes of survey administration in a national survey of doctors.
A stratified random sample of 4.9% (2,702/54,160) of doctors undertaking clinical practice was drawn from a national directory of all doctors in Australia. Stratification was by four doctor types: general practitioners, specialists, specialists-in-training, and hospital non-specialists, and by six rural/remote categories. A three-arm parallel trial design with equal randomisation across arms was used. Doctors were randomly allocated to: online questionnaire (902); simultaneous mixed mode (a paper questionnaire and login details sent together) (900); or, sequential mixed mode (online followed by a paper questionnaire with the reminder) (900). Analysis was by intention to treat, as within each primary mode, doctors could choose either paper or online. Primary outcome measures were response rate, survey response bias, item non-response, and cost.
The online mode had a response rate 12.95%, followed by the simultaneous mixed mode with 19.7%, and the sequential mixed mode with 20.7%. After adjusting for observed differences between the groups, the online mode had a 7 percentage point lower response rate compared to the simultaneous mixed mode, and a 7.7 percentage point lower response rate compared to sequential mixed mode. The difference in response rate between the sequential and simultaneous modes was not statistically significant. Both mixed modes showed evidence of response bias, whilst the characteristics of online respondents were similar to the population. However, the online mode had a higher rate of item non-response compared to both mixed modes. The total cost of the online survey was 38% lower than simultaneous mixed mode and 22% lower than sequential mixed mode. The cost of the sequential mixed mode was 14% lower than simultaneous mixed mode. Compared to the online mode, the sequential mixed mode was the most cost-effective, although exhibiting some evidence of response bias.
Decisions on which survey mode to use depend on response rates, response bias, item non-response and costs. The sequential mixed mode appears to be the most cost-effective mode of survey administration for surveys of the population of doctors, if one is prepared to accept a degree of response bias. Online surveys are not yet suitable to be used exclusively for surveys of the doctor population.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Australian Government's recent decision to replace the Rural Remote and Metropolitan Area (RRMA) classification with the Australian Standard Geographical Classification - Remoteness Areas (ASGC-RA) system highlights the ongoing significance of geographical classifications for rural health policy, particularly in relation to improving the rural health workforce supply. None of the existing classifications, including the government's preferred choice, were designed specifically to guide health resource allocation, and all exhibit strong weaknesses when applied as such. Continuing reliance on these classifications as policy tools will continue to result in inappropriate health program resource distribution. Purely 'geographical' classifications alone cannot capture all relevant aspects of rural health service provision within a single measure. Moreover, because many subjective decisions (such as the choice of algorithm and breakdown of groupings) influence a classification's impact and acceptance from its users, policy-makers need to specify explicitly the purpose and role of their different programs as the basis for developing and implementing appropriate decision tools such as 'rural-urban' classifications. Failure to do so will continue to limit the effectiveness that current rural health support and incentive programs can have in achieving their objective of improving the provision of health care services to rural populations though affirmative action programs.
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.
People living in rural Australia are more likely to die in hospital following an acute myocardial infarction than those living in major cities. While several factors, including time taken to access hospital care, contribute to this risk, it is also partially attributable to the lower uptake of evidence-based guidelines for the administration of thrombolytic drugs in rural emergency departments where up to one-third of eligible patients do not receive this life-saving intervention. Clinical pathways have the potential to link evidence to practice by integrating guidelines into local systems, but their impact has been hampered by variable implementation strategies and sub-optimal research designs. The purpose of this study is to determine the impact of a five-step clinical pathways implementation process on the timely and efficient administration of thrombolytic drugs for acute myocardial infarctions managed in rural Australian emergency departments.
The design is a two-arm, cluster-randomised trial with rural hospital emergency departments that treat and do not routinely transfer acute myocardial infarction patients. Six rural hospitals in the state of Victoria will participate, with three in the intervention group and three in the control group. Intervention hospitals will participate in a five-step clinical pathway implementation process: engagement of clinicians, pathway development according to local resources and systems, reminders, education, and audit and feedback. Hospitals in the control group will each receive a hard copy of Australian national guidelines for chest pain and acute myocardial infarction management. Each group will include 90 cases to give a power of 80% at 5% significance level for the two primary outcome measures: proportion of those eligible for thrombolysis receiving the drug and time to delivery of thrombolytic drug.
Improved compliance with thrombolytic guidelines via clinical pathways will increase acute myocardial infarction survival rates in rural hospitals and thereby help to reduce rural-urban mortality inequalities. Such knowledge translation has the potential to be adapted for a range of clinical problems in a wide array of settings.
Australia New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry code ACTRN12608000209392.
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.
In rural health and other health service development contexts, there is frustration with a reliance on pilot projects as a means of informing policy and service innovation. There is also an emerging recognition that existing research methods do not draw lessons from the failed sustainability that characterises many of these pilots and demonstration projects.
This article describes critical aspects of the methodology of a successful collaborative, multi-method, systematic synthesis of exemplary primary health care pilot projects in rural and remote Australia, which synthesised principles from a number of pilot projects to inform policy makers and planners. Hallmarks of the method were: the nature of the source materials for the research, the subsequent research engagement with the actual pilot projects, the extent of collaboration throughout the study with end-users from policy and planning arenas, and the attention to procedural quality.
The methodology, while time consuming, has resulted in applied, policy-relevant findings, and evidence of consideration by policy-makers.
Introductions of non-native species are seen as major threats to ecosystem function and biodiversity. However, invasions of aquatic habitats by non-native species are known to benefit generalist consumers that exhibit dietary switches and prey upon the exotic species in addition to or in preference to native ones. There is, however, little knowledge concerning the population-level implications of such dietary changes. Here, we show that the introduction of the Manila clam Tapes philippinarum into European coastal waters has presented the Eurasian oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus ostralegus with a new food resource and resulted in a previously unknown predator–prey interaction between these species. We demonstrate, with an individuals-based simulation model, that the presence of this non-native shellfish, even at the current low density, has reduced the predicted over-winter mortality of oystercatchers at one recently invaded site. Further increases in clam population density are predicted to have even more pronounced effects on the density dependence of oystercatcher over-winter mortality. These results suggest that if the Manila clam were to spread around European coastal waters, a process which is likely to be facilitated by global warming, this could have considerable benefits for many shellfish-eating shorebird populations.
biological invasions; Manila clam; Tapes philippinarum; climate change
The water-insoluble hydroxides of zirconium (IV), titanium (IV), titanium (III), iron (II), vanadium (III), and tin (II) have been used to prepare insoluble derivatives of a cyclic peptide antibiotic by a facile chelation process. Testing of the antibacterial activities of the products against two gram-positive and two gram-negative bacteria showed that in the majority of cases the water-insoluble antibiotics remained active against those bacteria susceptible to the parent antibiotic. The power of the assay system has been extended by the novel use of colored organisms to aid determinations where the growth of normal organisms could not be distinguished from the appearance of the supporting material. Insoluble derivatives of neomycin, polymyxin B, streptomycin, ampicillin, penicillin G, and chloramphenicol were prepared by chelation with zirconium hydroxide, and these derivatives similarly reflected the antibacterial activities of the parent compounds. Several of the metal hydroxides themselves possess antibacterial activity due to complex formation with the bacteria. However, the use of selected metal hydroxides can afford a simple, inexpensive, and inert matrix for antibiotic immobilization, resulting in an antibacterial product that may possess slow-release properties. The mechanisms by which the metal hydroxide-antibiotic association-dissociation may occur are discussed.