Rural health can be improved through community participation: report

26 March, 2014

Rural communities must be involved in the design of their health services if the health disparities between rural and urban Australians are to be addressed effectively, according to a report published by the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).

Rural Australians experience poorer health than their urban counterparts, due to the increased prevalence of preventable health conditions such as obesity and accidental injuries, combined with the sparse distribution of health services," says AHHA Chief Executive, Alison Verhoeven.

"Rural health services are generally smaller, with less access to resources, whilst being expected to service a far greater area than those located within urban areas."

Report author Nerida Hyett makes several recommendations on improving the overall health of rural Australians, through community participation initiatives, which are tailored to the local context and which are aimed at improving existing practice without increases to health expenditure.

These recommendations include working with the community to develop new ways to contract and pay for health services using current budgets and focussing government grants and tenders on proposals that best display community participation approaches.

In order to facilitate this community input, community-based health services including Medicare Locals and Local Health Networks have an important role to play.

This role includes building partnerships between existing services and leveraging existing participation strategies,  and the employment of a jointly-appointed, paid community leadership position across existing community-based health services, to avoid duplication and overcome barriers of over-consultation and volunteer fatigue.

"Without constructive and considered input from those living in rural Australia, health outcomes for those living outside of urban communities will continue to be poorer than those of their city-based counterparts," says Nerida Hyett.