Background: Australians living in rural and remote areas
experience poorer access to primary health care (PHC) and poorer health
outcomes compared to metropolitan populations. Current health reform in
Australia aims to ensure all Australians, regardless of where they live, have
access to essential PHC services. However, at a national level policy makers
and health planners lack an evidence-based set of core PHC services to assist
in implementing this goal.
Methods: A Delphi method was used to reach consensus on an evidence-based list of core PHC services to which all Australians should have access and their necessary support functions. Experts in rural and remote and/or Indigenous PHC, including policy-makers, academics, clinicians and consumers, were invited to consider a list of core services derived from the literature.
Results: Thirty nine experts agreed to participate. After three survey rounds there was a strong consensus (≥80% agreement) on core PHC services namely; ‘care of the sick and injured’ , ‘mental health’ , ‘maternal/child health’ , ‘allied health’ , ‘sexual/reproductive health’ , ‘rehabilitation’ , ‘oral/dental health’ and ‘public health/illness prevention’; and on the PHC support functions of; ‘management/governance/leadership’ , ‘coordination’, ‘health infrastructure’, ‘quality systems’ , ‘data systems’ , ‘professional development’ and ‘community participation’. Themes emerging from qualitative data included challenges in providing equitable PHC in rural and remote areas, the importance of service coordination and diverse strategies to overcome access barriers.
Conclusion: This study identifies a basket of PHC services that consumers in rural and remote communities can expect to access. It provides rigorously derived evidence that will contribute to a more systematic approach to PHC service planning and availability and will assist policy makers in the allocation of scarce resources necessary to improve the health outcomes of residents of rural and remote areas.