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Bridging the gap for rural healthcare

As chronic disease grows and Australians continue to age, access to quality healthcare and the services provided by GPs - including specialists - becomes increasingly critical.

" While financial incentives to date have proven to be somewhat ineffective in retaining doctors, perhaps it’s the lifestyle opportunity we should rather be marketing."
Cindy Arthur, Head of Health, Regional Business Banking, at ANZ

This is of particular importance to regional Australia where an ageing population is more pronounced and we continue to tackle a medical workforce supply gap, despite an almost 80 per cent increase in the number of GPs in regional Australia since 2000.

Pleasingly, there have been a number of recent steps taken to try and address this issue by aiming to attract and retain medical workers in regional Australia.

A new ANZ and Melbourne Institute Health Sector Report examines current general practice (GP) trends and the government funding reforms, demographic shifts and structural changes which are transforming the sector. 

You can read the report HERE.

MAKING GOOD

In February the Assistant Minister for Health, Dr David Gillespie, announced the Coalition Government would appoint the country’s first National Rural Health Commissioner, who will act as an independent advocate for regional, rural and remote health. 

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Photo: Eyre/Tynan Emergency Department. Source: Shutterstock/Nils Versemann.

Minister Gillespie said the government wanted to ensure good opportunities for regional and rural medical students to train and live locally.

This announcement follows an increase in collaboration across government and industry as highlighted by recent updates to the Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) program intake. 

This will provide the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) the opportunity to help identify and select doctor-specific recruitment for Australia’s regional, rural and remote areas.

Retention of doctors regionally is also a major focus, with the government recently announcing a $A54 million program to keep medical specialists in regional areas by providing improved access to training with 26 new regional training hubs to be established with the support of existing universities around the country.

Extra departments for Rural Health will also be established at some of Australia’s leading universities including the University of Notre Dame in Western Australia, Charles Sturt University in New South Wales and the University of Queensland. These departments will focus on ways to manage medical workforce shortages in their region.

TECH

Technology is another key factor in the rural workforce shortage.  The emergence of new technologies and improvements to telecommunications infrastructure in regional Australia should create greater access to telehealth for regional communities.

Technology-based patient consultations represent an alternative to face-to-face patient consulting and a more cost effective way of delivering healthcare services to remote areas.

Since 2011 telehealth service claims processes have increased by over 80 per cent, the majority of which were from regional Australia. 

These sorts of services are likely to expand. Under the Victorian Telehealth Specialist Clinic initiative, the Victorian government announced last month 15 successful projects that will share in $A5 million in extra funding for telehealth links to metropolitan specialists for patients living in regional and rural parts of the state.

Successful delivery of telehealth in particular for specialist consultations relies heavily on local GP’s with whom patients feel comfortable.

PROSPERITY

There’s no doubt access to quality healthcare is key to ensuring the ongoing prosperity of regional Australia. What’s clear from my many travels across the beautiful countryside is that regional Australia continues to offer residents of all ages, an enviable lifestyle.

As the demographics of the towns change, aging or otherwise, so does the need for different Healthcare services which in turn deliver local employment and economic growth.

While financial incentives to date have proven to be somewhat ineffective in retaining doctors, perhaps it’s the lifestyle opportunity we should rather be marketing.  

After all regional Australia includes some of our best produce and some of our top tourist destinations so why wouldn’t you want to stay?

Cindy Arthur is Head of Health, Regional Business Banking, at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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