Addressing Gaps and Improving Accessibility

People who live in rural communities often have fewer opportunities to receive healthcare services. They may have difficulty traveling to clinics due to costs, lack of transportation or health conditions that require specialized treatment.

The UYDF bursary and mentorship programme is proving to be effective at recruiting and retaining healthcare professionals for rural areas. This paper explores the perceptions and experiences of the students and graduates, and managers from the facilities where they work, regarding this programme.

1. Access to Health Services

In rural areas, healthcare services are typically harder to access than in urban centres. This can be due to a combination of factors, including geographic distance, rural demographics, socio-economic status and the availability of public transport.

It is also more difficult for people to access health services when they have a disability or a chronic illness. This is due to the fact that they are more likely to require specialist services such as diagnostic tests, medical procedures and specialist rehabilitation services, and may have more complex care needs. Additionally, the costs of these services can be higher for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

This means that it is even more important to make healthcare services easier for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses to access. This can be done by improving accessibility to healthcare services, and making sure that people with disabilities know about the options available to them.

In addition, there are a number of schemes available to support people with disabilities who need to travel long distances to access health services, such as the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme in South Australia. This is a great way to help people with disabilities access the healthcare services they need, and it is worth checking out if you are interested in finding out more.

One key factor affecting healthcare access is shortages in the healthcare workforce, especially in rural areas. This is because healthcare professionals are essential in providing treatment and ensuring that patients receive the best possible outcome from their care. There are a number of ways that these shortages can be addressed, and you can find out more by reading the RHIhub’s Rural Workforce topic guide.

Other barriers to healthcare access include cultural beliefs, lack of transport opportunities and the cost of health services. It is important to consider these issues when delivering healthcare services to rural communities, as they can impact the wellbeing of the community as a whole.

2. Access to Information

A lack of information about health services in rural communities is a significant obstacle to accessing healthcare. Rural residents have less experience and familiarity with health care and often do not know about available services that may be closer than they think. This may result in them not contacting health services or making appointments.

In addition, people living in rural areas are more likely to have slower internet connections, which can affect the use of online resources and limit their ability to make appointments via telehealth. Providing better, more accessible information about available health services in rural areas is one way to improve access and encourage utilisation.

The use of telehealth is increasing across Australia, particularly in rural areas. According to a recent report by the Peterson Center on Healthcare, people in rural areas are nearly twice as likely as their urban counterparts to lack broadband access at home. It is important to keep up the momentum of telehealth development in rural Australia, as it offers an opportunity for those with less familiarity with health services to have more contact with a health professional and be supported to attend appointments.

Some of the barriers to accessing healthcare in rural SA include the low availability of GPs and other healthcare workers; high turnover of staff in rural areas; long travel distances to visit health facilities; and poor transportation. There are currently schemes in place to help people with transport needs to access specialist medical services that cannot be provided locally. However, many of the CALD community participants in this study did not know about these schemes or had never used them.

To understand how healthcare services in rural SA could be improved, a series of focus groups were conducted with CALD community members in Naracoorte, Murray Bridge and Renmark. Participants were invited to take part in a face-to-face or telephone interview with researchers to share their experiences and views on how healthcare services could be improved.

The research was undertaken by the Rural Support Service, a business unit within the South Australian Department of Health (SA Health). The RSS is responsible for delivering statewide business services and providing a client-centred model of care to regional South Australians. The RSS is an organisation that advocates for the health priorities of rural communities, provides innovative business solutions and shares its expertise with the regional Local Health Networks and metropolitan Adelaide LHNs in a mutually supportive manner.

3. Access to Health Professionals

Many countries struggle with a shortage of health professionals. This is often exacerbated in rural areas where recruitment is especially difficult. Rural communities may also face socio-economic constraints such as high unemployment, poverty and limited incomes. This can prevent people from accessing healthcare services and can lead to poor health outcomes. To help overcome these obstacles, innovative approaches are needed to improve rural health workforce recruitment strategies.

One such approach is a rural-augmented mobile healthcare service. This service is designed to offer primary healthcare and screening services to people in rural communities. The aim of the service is to help people avoid having to travel long distances to obtain healthcare services. This service was evaluated in the Mbashe community in South Africa. The study was based on an ethnographic interview and focus group discussion with key informants and participants who had used the service.

The results of the evaluation showed that the mobile healthcare service was successful in improving the availability and accessibility of healthcare services in rural areas. The services offered included HIV testing and counselling, TB and hypertension screening, immunisation, basic health education and treatment for common illnesses.

However, it was found that the success of this project was dependent on the willingness of people to use it and the support from community members. The participants in the focus groups and interview indicated that they felt the service was beneficial for their health and well-being. The respondents also agreed that it was important to have an accessible, affordable and quality healthcare system.

Participants in the focus groups and interviews highlighted some limitations to the UYDF intervention. These limitations included: the need for a broader approach to addressing the shortage of healthcare workers; an urgent need to address the shortage of equipment in rural hospitals and the need to ensure that there is enough variety of healthcare services available in rural hospitals.

There are a number of ways that people can make it easier to access healthcare services in rural SA. This includes reducing the need to travel long distances to get healthcare, providing more specialised services in rural hospitals and ensuring that the needs of people with disabilities are met.

4. Access to Treatment

Access to treatment services is a key component of the human right to health and the achievement of the highest attainable standard of health (Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, 2000). To be considered accessible healthcare services must meet certain criteria including being available, approachable, affordable and appropriate. In rural Australia these criteria are not always met (e.g. many people live more than an hour away from a public hospital).

People living in rural areas with disabilities face a particular challenge in accessing health services as they are often disproportionately affected by a combination of factors including poverty, disability and remoteness. Although there is some research into the impact of these factors in urban contexts, little attention has been given to their effects in rural settings.

There is a need to understand how to make it easier for people with disabilities to access healthcare services in rural SA, and how to improve their use of existing services. This will allow the development of targeted strategies to improve utilisation.

A number of initiatives are already in place to support access to healthcare services for rural residents, including telehealth and transport assistance schemes. However, the effectiveness of these initiatives is dependent upon a number of factors. For example, people who are eligible for a transport subsidy must be aware of the scheme and be willing to participate in the program.

An additional challenge in rural regions is attracting and retaining healthcare workers. This is largely due to the high costs of living in rural areas, the lack of employment opportunities and a shortage of skilled healthcare professionals. It is therefore important to develop innovative strategies that involve community involvement.

One such initiative is the Rural Youth Development Fund (UYDF). This is a scholarship programme that aims to address the shortage of healthcare workers in rural areas by supporting young people to study health sciences at university. This initiative has been highly successful, producing over 90 graduates since its inception and supporting 251 students in 2017. The RSS is responsible for delivering some statewide services to and with regional LHNs and will work to continue to develop local capacity and capability where sustainable and appropriate.