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More resources, faster internet the key for rural health

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Rural doctors have overwhelmingly identified the need for improved public hospital funding and better internet access as the most important solutions for rural health care.

In the first AMA survey of rural doctors since 2007, GPs, other specialists, salaried doctors and doctors in training were asked to rank in importance 20 proposed solutions to improve the health of rural Australians.

Almost 600 doctors took part in the 2016 AMA Rural Health Issues Survey in April.

And, as they did in 2007, they nominated “provide extra funding and resources to support improved staffing levels, including core visiting medical officers, to allow workable rosters” as their top priority.

In a sign of the growing use of internet-based communications and data, access to high-speed broadband was not a survey option nine years ago, but was ranked as second-most important in this year’s survey.

Ensuring that rural hospitals have modern facilities and equipment rose one space to third, and encouraging medical colleges to include rotations for trainees to rural areas rose from sixth to fourth.

Related: Rural doctors want support

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said the survey results showed that rural Australia needs more resources to recruit and retain doctors and other health professionals.

“We have record numbers of medical school places and, with sufficient numbers of medical graduates coming through, the focus must now be in how we can get them to work in the places they are needed the most,” Dr Gannon said.

As one respondent said: “I cannot stress enough the importance of rotating specialist/vocational trainees into rural posts. The RACS and RACP have done so for years with great exposure and training of prospective doctors for a rural practice. Other colleges must follow suit, especially psychiatry, radiology, pathology, O&G, and emergency medicine, to name a few key deficiencies in rural placement or training.”

The survey found that rural doctors enjoy their careers but struggle with the workload and lack of support.

Related: MJA – Providing a lifeline for rural doctors

“It’s very hard to find locum support to take holidays/attend conferences, and as the only specialist in my field in all rural WA, extra support to maintain CPD and be able to go on holidays would be nice,” one respondent said.

But the response from the community makes the job rewarding, doctors said.

“Small towns often appreciate what little I could do for them,” one doctor said.

The survey results build on the AMA’s Plan for Better Health Care for Regional, Remote, and Rural Australia, released in May.

The Plan proposes a focus on four key areas – rebuilding country hospital infrastructure; supporting recruitment and retention of doctors; encouraging more young doctors to work in rural areas; and supporting rural practices.

“Addressing and investing in these measures will make a long-term difference to the health of Australians living in rural communities,” Dr Gannon said.

Maria Hawthorne

Photo credit: Nils Versemann / Shutterstock.com

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