Introduction: The study identifies the differences between rural health and remote health and describes key distinctive characteristics of remote health.
Methods: The study used a mixed method approach of interviews and questionnaires (utilising a Likert scale) with expert stakeholders in rural health and remote health. A total of 45 interviews were conducted with experts selected from every state and territory of Australia. Of these, 41 also completed a questionnaire, of which 21 respondents were female, 20 identified predominantly as academics while six, five and five indicated that they worked in policy, advocacy and as a practitioner, respectively. Thirteen worked in rural health, 10 in remote health and 18 in both; 23 participants worked in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health. Respondents had worked in rural health or remote health for mean periods of 13 years and 8 years, respectively.
Results: Means for each of 15 characteristics indicated that respondents viewed each characteristic as different in remote health compared to rural health. Interviews confirmed these perceived differences, with particular emphasis on isolation, poor service access and the relatively high proportion of Indigenous residents. Those working in remote and Aboriginal health most strongly identified these distinctions.
Conclusions: A detailed and rigorous description of the discipline of remote health, and the differences to rural health, will assist policymakers, health planners, teachers and researchers to develop an appropriate workforce, models of service delivery and policy that are relevant, appropriate and effective in order to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources and health outcomes across this vast continent.