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Holistic medicine provision in the outback

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Overcoming the barriers to chronic disease management in rural areas

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) has been providing essential medical services to rural and remote Australia since its inception in 1927. The service, founded by Reverend John Flynn, started as a single base at Cloncurry in Queensland1 and now operates out of 21 bases, providing both primary care clinics and emergency retrieval services. RFDS has been servicing clinics from its Broken Hill base since the 1940s; by 1970, there were three full-time doctors conducting the clinics and running the on-call service via the radio network. In 2016, Broken Hill doctors treated patients in 17 different clinic locations each month. On most weekdays, there are general practitioners at three clinic sites, along with dentists, nurses and mental health practitioners.

RFDS is well recognised within Australia and internationally as the only provider of emergency care to large swathes of the outback. Television shows, such as The Flying Doctors and Outback ER, make acute care and cutting-edge medicine familiar to the public. What is less well known, however, is the organisation’s extensive involvement in delivering primary care services to people living in remote locations.

Chronic disease management (CDM) is a key component of the primary care services offered, and the appointment of a practice nurse…