People living in rural and remote areas face challenges in accessing appropriate health services, many of which struggle to recruit and retain staff. While researchers have documented these issues in Australia and internationally, rural health remains reactive to current problems and lacks comprehensive understanding. This paper presents a conceptual framework that can be used to better understand specific rural and remote health situations. The framework consists of six key concepts: geographic isolation, the rural locale, local health responses, broader health systems, social structures and power. Viewed through Giddens' theory of structuration, the framework suggests that rural health is understood as spatial and social relations among local residents as well as the actions of local health professionals/consumers that are both enabled and constrained by broader health systems and social structures. The framework provides a range of stakeholders with a guide to understanding rural and remote health.