Editorial: Research informing the future direction of rural health

  • Two people swimming at sunset

[Image: Tanya Lehmann]

Rural and remote Australia is home to over 7 million people, comprising almost one-third of the population. They contribute the majority of Australia’s economic wealth, yet we are still struggling to provide them with basic health care – resulting in their worsening health status. With major challenges in healthcare accessibility, they have higher levels of disease and injury and shorter lives than their city counterparts.

Concerted efforts are needed to reverse this dire situation. Rural health research plays an important role in this regard. It is vital in identifying gaps in rural healthcare delivery and informing improvements. Input from those with grassroots experience can provide guidance in policymaking and project implementation.

The 9th Rural and Remote Health Scientific Symposium, hosted by the National Rural Health Alliance on 20 and 21 June 2023 in Canberra, will be an excellent opportunity to help shape the future of rural and remote health research. This issue carries an overview of the Symposium, including keynote speaker details and what’s lined up for delegates to engage in discussions to connect research, practice and communities.

In recognition of the upcoming Symposium, Partyline has devoted this issue to exploring the significant value and broad impact of rural health research – past, present and future. We asked contributors to share knowledge on research trends and innovative best practice. We are pleased that this call was enthusiastically answered with inspiring stories demonstrating how research findings can be used to benefit the health outcomes of rural Australians.

This issue introduces the new Editor-in-Chief of the Australian Journal of Rural Health, who outlines how the Journal can be a game changer for organising and sharing rural health research. The Journal has grown significantly over the years and its strength is evidenced by an impressive body of local, national and international research on rural health. Planning is already underway for some exciting changes for the Journal.

As always, we welcomed thoughtful contributions from our Members and Friends.

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association highlights the need for a meaningful focus on research funding and champions the benefits of local, co-designed research. Their article calls for fair benefits of health research to flow to all Australians, regardless of where they live.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has drawn on research that shows the importance of improving non-technical skills, to reduce adverse events in surgery and provide better patient outcomes. They have launched a study on an innovative training model for surgeons to develop these skills in a rural setting.

Another of our Members, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, gives a report of the recent Rural Women’s Health Roundtable and ongoing advocacy to ensure rural and remote women receive high-quality health care throughout pregnancy.

An article by Royal Far West calls for early intervention for developmentally vulnerable country children or those impacted by trauma. A successful partnership has led to an evidence-based model of care with impressive results. They emphasise the need for courage and vision to shape effective health outcomes.

Among articles from Friends of the Alliance, CheckUP Australia highlights the value of understanding the key elements of cultural safety in order to provide better health care. A key focus area for the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia is innovative research that brings together partners to investigate ways to improve health service delivery.

From the university sector, La Trobe Rural Health School describes research that led to a holistic model of aftercare that is helping to prevent suicide. Monash Rural Health tells of a significant study that was driven by community concerns and is shaping the response to future disasters. The University of Melbourne discusses the importance of building local research capacity and creating opportunities for rural clinical placements for students.

These themes are reflected in many of the articles in this issue. They speak of the importance of engaging with local communities and developing collaborative partnerships. There are many examples of successful models of care that draw on multidisciplinary teams or utilise outreach and telehealth to help bridge the gaps and improve rural health care. All of these successes have been driven by local health research that has provided an evidence base for best-practice and future innovation.

The Alliance applauds these examples and will advocate for the necessary support and funding to build on important placed-based health research. We look forward to continuing our work with stakeholders to ensure equitable healthcare delivery for rural Australians.

Thank you to all contributors for taking the time to share your ideas through Partyline. We’re sure readers will find this issue inspiring and a valuable resource for the future direction of rural health research.

We also thank our advertisers for their support of Partyline and, above all, healthy and sustainable rural, regional and remote communities across Australia.

We sincerely hope you enjoy reading this issue!

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