No single rural and remote community’s healthcare and aged care needs will be the same, and solutions must be tailored accordingly depending on the patient demographic. Often, the most significant challenges in rural and remote aged care relate to:
- access to other specialist medical practitioners and allied health professionals (eg physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, social workers, dentists, pharmacists)
- recruiting, training and supporting professional care staff
- professional isolation and lack of networking opportunities.
Despite the ability of rural and remote GPs to meet many of the primary-care needs of the rural and remote aged cohort, there remains a propensity for the ageing population to migrate towards more regional or urban settings. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) data found that those aged ≥65 years make up 13% of the population in major cities, but only 10% of the population in remote and 7% in very remote areas.4 Factors for this will include:5
- Access to routine medical services is limited the more remotely people live; however, the needs for these services increase exponentially with age (ie pharmacy, general practice appointments, imaging, allied health, nursing care).
- Access to home services and modifications is absent in most remote areas and many rural communities. There remains an invisible but impervious barrier around most tertiary facilities; home services will cease beyond just a handful of kilometres.
- Many rural and remote townships will not have facilities for assisted living or high-level nursing care, so
forward-planning retirees will often plan wisely for their increasing care needs and move closer to advanced health services.
A skilled and well-equipped rural and remote GP who provides an excellent standard of aged care builds capacity for the township, as the effect of an exodus of retirees from a rural and remote community should not be underestimated. There is a significant ‘brain drain’ that occurs when aged care recipients migrate towards regional centres. For example, the wisdom of years of experience on the land, the mentorship and support for the next generation, and even the childcare for the younger families serve as important enablers for community prosperity.
The high healthcare needs of an ageing population in a rural and remote community can sometimes draw in health services, including allied health, GPs and general practice registrars, pharmacy and imaging facilities. This therefore restores vigour and activity to a dwindling community. Healthcare staff, facilities and their families bring new life to the community, and, here, the confident and skilled GP has served as the conductor, recruiter and enabler for the community.