Rural Australians generally experience poorer health than their city counterparts. Rural Australia is a vast geographical region, with significant diversity, where there is good health and prosperity, as well as disadvantage. The purpose of this issue brief is to provide evidence on how the health of rural Australians can be improved through community participation initiatives, which are currently being funded and delivered by health services and networks.
Rural Australians need innovative health services that are tailored to the local context and meet increasing healthcare demands, without increases to expenditure. There are community participation approaches supported by research that can improve existing practice. Avoiding duplication, including the current work of Medicare Locals and Local Hospital Networks, is important for ensuring good outcomes from community participation initiatives.
The following recommendations are made to improve practice:
New ways to contract and pay for health services are needed, which use ideas developed with communities, within current budgets
State and federal government competitive grants and tenders should prioritise proposals that demonstrate effective community participation approaches
Community-based services, such as community health centres, Medicare Locals and Local Health Networks, have an important role to play in facilitating community participation, including:
Building partnerships between existing services and leveraging existing participation strategies, rather than developing new services or standalone initiatives—to leverage available funds and maximise outcomes
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
Formal and robust evaluation of initiatives is necessary to guide future policy and research
A national innovative online knowledge sharing portal is required to share best practice in rural community participation, save time and money on ineffective approaches, and to support the rural health workforce.
Australian Healthcare and Hospital Association 2014