Kevin Farmer

Changing approach to tackle vicious healthcare cycle

HEALTHCARE in rural and remote areas like the Clarence Valley is in a vicious cycle according to Professor Ross Bailie, the new North Coast Director of the University Centre for Rural Health.

Prof Bailie said that the centre is aware people living in rural and remote areas are suffering because of the shortage of doctors.

"If you look at the health outcomes, they tend to be worse off than people living in urban areas because their access to healthcare is less," Prof Bailie said.

"The fewer doctors, the more difficult it is for the remaining health professionals."

He said one of the ways they are combating these issues is to use a team approach model to healthcare.

"The traditional model is doctors working in hospitals tend to be with specialist expertise and GPs with the very important first point of contact and not very much in between.

"So there is an increased amount of importance on nurses and people like Aboriginal health workers and allied health workers and pharmacists who can play an important function in the health care system.

"Both in terms of providing early advice and health education for people and facilitating people's access to GPs and helping people understand when things can be treated at home."

Prof Bailie said new models that include technology are improving access to specialists in regional areas.

"General specialists in training or GPs can tap in with the specialists to get advice without having a specialist on the ground," he said.

"There is a lot more work to be done in terms of improving these models, it doesn't have to be the traditional model."

Prof Bailie said one of the reasons the centre exists is to help combat the divide between rural and remote areas and urban areas and bring healthcare professionals to the areas that need them.

"This is a problem across Australia, not just in the Clarence Valley. It was one of the main reasons why the centre that we have here and other similar centres were set up between 10 and 20 years ago," he said.

"One angle is if we train students in rural areas, they get a better taste and understanding for working in these environments and more familiar working environment, they are more likely to come back.

"The second angle is we really encourage people from rural and remote areas to enrol for medical and health related training.

"The fact that at least some training happens in rural areas encourages them to participate.

"There has been increasing evidence that this works. In Lismore we see people have come through the programs and are returning to work in the hospital, we'd expect the same to happen in Grafton.

"It's a long term strategy, there are no quick fixes."

He added that there are a number of ways to try to encourage people to come back.

"Making sure conditions of employment are good and that they are supported in terms of cost of living and access to career development," he said.

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