AIHW - Survey of health care in remote areas

  • Female doctor looking at male patient wrist

A survey looking at the experiences of people aged 45 and over who visited a GP at least once in the year period November 2014 to November 2015) found that people in Remote/Very remote areas not only had poorer access than their city counterparts to a range of health services, they experienced less sharing of information between their health care providers. This sharing, or coordination of health care, is crucial if a patient is to receive consistent, cohesive care.

The survey report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Survey of health care: selected findings for rural and remote Australians, supports previous research about the health experiences of people in rural and remote Australia.

The report presents information from the 2016 Survey of Health Care, which is the cornerstone of the AIHW’s Coordination of Health Care Study. This study focuses on patients’ experiences with health care providers and was designed so that coordination of health care can be explored nationally, and at smaller geographic areas. The first national level results were published in 2017 and the survey results for people living in rural and remote areas is the first in a series  of further publications from the study planned for 2018 and beyond. The AIHW developed the survey with the Australian Bureau of Statistics to ensure the views of people in all areas of Australia were included; something not always possible with other national surveys. Nearly half of the people who completed the survey (48 per cent or 17,000) lived in a rural or remote area.

Adults living in Remote and Very remote Australia are more likely than people in Major cities to report that not having a health professional nearby was a barrier to them seeing one: six times as likely for seeing a general practitioner (GP) and ten times as likely for a specialist. They are also much more likely to have visited a hospital emergency department in the past 12 months because no GP was available when they needed one (17 per cent compared with 10 per cent).

Australians living in rural and remote areas tend to have shorter lives, higher levels of disease and injury, and poorer access to, and use of, health services than people in cities.

The survey asked patients if they had a usual GP or place of care. The doctor–patient relationship is pivotal in creating continuity of care over a patient’s life, which can be especially important for improving health outcomes for people with chronic conditions and complex medical histories.

Overall, people in Major cities were more likely than those in Outer regional and Remote/Very remote Australia to have a usual GP (89 per cent compared with 81 per cent and 69 per cent, respectively).

People in Remote/Very remote areas were less likely than those in other areas to indicate that their usual GP or place of care seemed informed of their follow-up needs after they had seen a health professional for their physical, emotional or psychological health; after they had visited a specialist; or after they had been admitted to hospital.  

The Survey of Health Care report adds to the existing evidence that shows an overall pattern of poorer health and welfare outcomes in rural and remote Australia.

Despite this, according to the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, Australians living in outside of Major cities generally have higher levels of life satisfaction.

For further survey results throughout 2018, and more information about rural and remote health is available through the AIHW website.   

What do we mean by rural and remote?
Rural and remote areas comprise four of the five remoteness groups defined by the Australian Statistical Geography Standard – Inner regional, Outer regional, Remote and Very remote. The fifth group is Major cities.


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