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Strengthening primary health care: achieving health gains in a remote region of Australia

The health status of rural and remote Australian communities is poorer than that of urban communities. Comprehensive primary health care (PHC) services can reduce these health inequities, which by definition are unfair and remediable,1 through the provision of competent clinical care, population health programs, good access to secondary and tertiary care, and client and community advocacy to address health risk factors and social determinants.2

In rural and especially remote areas, there is strong evidence that poor access to PHC remains a critical barrier, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and this is reflected in the high rate of avoidable hospitalisations.3 However, there is a paucity of rigorous studies showing the nature of the relationship between models of health care in remote areas and health outcomes.4 Given increasingly scarce resources, high costs and workforce shortages in remote areas, understanding how well services are meeting community needs and improving health outcomes is essential.

This study addresses this gap in knowledge by evaluating a health service partnership in the Fitzroy Valley in the remote Kimberley region of north-west Western Australia.5 The Fitzroy Valley covers an area of 30 000 km2,…