Support for rural Australia begins with acknowledging diversity

  • Two sets of hands holding each other
CareSearch Palliative Care Knowledge Network
Dr Katrina Erny-Albrecht,
Senior Research Fellow

CareSearch palliative care knowledge networkLast year, in the midst of a pandemic, CareSearch planned, developed and launched a new online portal for palliative care. Evidence remains our bedrock, but we now have dedicated centres for community, health professionals, and those working with evidence. Our 2022 focus is to build on this work to provide everyone with access to information according to need. To know what that means for the seven million people living in rural, regional and remote Australia, we must first understand their needs.

A scan of needs assessment documents from some of Australia’s rural Primary Health Networks (PHNs) tells us chronic disease, ageing, and after-hours care are common areas of concern relevant to palliative care for all PHNs. The documents also show that rural communities are highly variable in terms of cultural backgrounds and specific healthcare needs, as well as the availability of health and social services. In some rural areas, new arrivals and refugees enrich local life, but when it comes to their health they often struggle with our complex system. The needs assessment document reminds us that rural Australia increasingly cares for an older population with chronic life-limiting conditions that might progress rapidly or impact a person’s life over many years.

Available data and mainstream media highlight that rural communities can be challenged by staff shortages, lack of after-hours services and committed but recently graduated and relatively inexperienced staff.

Supporting rural communities to respond to these diverse local palliative care needs will be a focus for 2022 and builds on our work for the new CareSearch portal. Importantly for health professionals and for rural communities, no door is locked and users can move between the community, health professional and evidence centres. Establishment of a primary health care (PHC) section in the new CareSearch portal recognises the pivotal role of PHC in palliative care. In rural areas PHC remains the backbone of healthcare services. Together with the GP hub the aim is to provide practical guidance and resources that can be tailored to local care contexts and needs. New content also reflects the diverse circumstances of care with flexible pathway options. Lists of MBS remuneration items for palliative care services delivered by PHC look to keep their doors open.

Good communication between health professionals and people with palliative care needs is essential to understand what is happening and the likely outcomes and feasibility of care options. Critically, it gives voice to a person’s preferences. These are not easy conversations. Language and cultural barriers can make them near impossible. So CareSearch now provides a one-stop place for packages of information in different languages. The new diversity section also acknowledges the barriers to care often faced by our diverse population and uses this as a relatable starting point to signpost where help is available.

Knowing what to expect and being prepared for end of life is important for everyone. The new portal Dying2Learn section helps people to start conversations with loved ones before the need for urgent decision-making is reached. Similarly, our section for older Australia helps older people to prepare for this next stage while navigating the system.

In rural communities, carers might find themselves taking on tasks that health and care professionals generally provide in more urban settings. Towards improving support, the revised section for patients and carers has placed the most useful information and resources up front – helping you find what you need whether you are living with illness or providing care. Health professionals likewise may find their roles extended and this is supported through diversity sections for health professionals, setting specific information and sections that relate to professional scopes of practice.

The benefit of an online resource is obvious for rural Australians who often have limited access to services. But poor internet connection can, and often does, represent a barrier to even this form of support for rural communities. So, at CareSearch we are also reviewing the role of printed information and resources and would welcome input from our rural community on what is needed.

In short, diversity is a hallmark of modern rural Australia and attempts to provide a generic ‘rural solution’ risk overlooking this. So, in 2022, CareSearch is continuing to focus on providing everyone with access to information according to needs and their context. The new platform is our starting point for enabling better end-of-life experiences wherever you live. If you have suggestions for how we can take it to the next level of usefulness please contact us at [email protected]

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