We can confidently say that technology has played a key and urgent role in changing the way health care is delivered and received in rural, regional and remote communities – a fitting theme for the final Partyline magazine for 2021.
A contribution by Alliance Member the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) notes the evolution of digital health had been protracted until the pandemic triggered a surge of technological advancement.
This crisis has also been a technological boon for rural health in that the Australian Government announced this week that telehealth will become a permanent feature of primary health care.
‘Technology that supports remote and isolated [health] care has been embraced and implemented at a speed never experienced before and most of the changes in workflow have been successful,’ says ACRRM.
Also hailed a digital success story is the capture and interrogation of clinical and other data. ACRRM points to investment in technology that is improving the quality of health systems and the interconnectivity of systems and processes across the entire medical supply chain. This includes electronic prescriptions, real-time prescription monitoring, electronic ordering of tests, and better access and security around consumer health records.
The Alliance has also taken advantage of the increased focus on health data management, being able to collate and interpret key national datasets in a new mapping tool which highlights the maldistribution of the rural health workforce across Australia.
The Rural Health Workforce Mapping Tool (RHWMT) is an evidence-based resource that can be used to drive rural health reform by answering crucial questions raised by policymakers and rural health stakeholders.
The RHWMT uses regional centre data as a benchmark to compare how the workforce is distributed across rural and remote areas through the lens of three filters: Federal Electorate Divisions, Local Government Areas and the Department of Health’s Modified Monash Model classification system.
These ‘heat maps’ allow users, such as politicians, policymakers, health services and community planners, to develop a greater understanding of local health issues. They show where the health workforce is most needed, including the professions that may be in local shortage.
In contrast to the vaccination innovation discussed in many Partyline contributions, another standout theme is just how important digital health has been in reaching a larger cross-section of population groups in rural, regional and remote areas.
LGBTIQ+ Health Australia has an online platform called QLife (qlife.org.au) which provides Australia-wide, anonymous peer support and referral for people wanting to talk about sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships via telephone and webchat, and also provides helpful resources.
Another great example is the Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network’s (HNECC PHN) support of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities’ health needs. Armidale is home to more than 650 Ezidi humanitarian arrivals from Iraq. Through an innovation grant, local community service provider HealthWISE is delivering a ‘care navigation program’ to link Ezidi people with existing primary care services, including for mental health and wellbeing.
I would like to thank our Members and Friends for sharing their insights through Partyline: ACRRM, Rural Health Workforce Australia, the Pharmacy Guild, Brien Holden Foundation, the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet, the Heart Foundation, La Trobe Rural Health School, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, the National Rural Health Commissioner, Rural Health West and University of Sydney School of Rural Health.