Local health research must be fit for purpose

Eucalyptus tree
Kylie Woolcock
Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association
Kylie Woolcock,
Chief Executive Officer

Since Medicare’s inception nearly four decades ago, our universal health system has placed a significant focus on equitable access to health care. However, health outcomes for the 30 per cent of Australians living in regional, rural and remote areas are significantly different to those living in metropolitan centres, with life expectancy decreasing with increasing remoteness. This circumstance is fundamentally at odds with the principle of equitable access to care.

Government (and media) attention is often focused on the very real need for increasing healthcare resources in rural and remote settings, or on those models of care required to meet community needs. However, these discussions often occur in the absence of context, and those facets of care that need to be addressed create barriers to interventions and achieving healthcare goals.

Regional healthcare research collaboratives have long championed the benefits of local, co-designed research. Conducting research in regional and rural areas helps develop trust and increase participation, and ensures the work undertaken is relevant to the community. By harnessing the direct investment of local communities and healthcare stakeholders, it is possible to include contextual factors into solutions, such as in the areas of healthcare technology, workforce needs and innovative care delivery. Advocacy is reinforced through firsthand experience.

Long-term funding models with a regional/rural/remote focus will be key to finding meaningful solutions and embedding them into standard practice. However, a lack of meaningful focus on regional health research funding has led to a metropolitan bias in the way our health systems are structured and services are provided. To remedy this, government must firstly recognise the current bias in health research and, secondly, explicitly provide more-targeted funding to regional and rural health research. This will also require implementation and evaluation support.

Every Australian deserves equitable access to the best possible health care. High‐quality research, that is rurally focused and located, is essential for building the research sector's capacity to bring appropriate health services that result in good health outcomes – and at reasonable cost – to those areas of the country that suffer from inequity.

The benefits of health research must be fair and should flow to all Australians regardless of where they live.

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