Jennifer Doggett writes:
It’s a scenario familiar to anyone used to attending health conferences and workshops: a presenter gets up and talks about a problem they are trying to solve in their city-based health service or program.
Inevitably, after the presentation a hand will go up at the back of the room and someone will explain how they have solved exactly that same issue in their own workplace. Nine times out of ten, that person will be from a rural or regional area and their solution will have been developed to meet a need they identified in their local community.
Rural and regional health care has a strong culture of innovation, flexibility and creativity. There are probably many reasons for this – the types of people who are attracted to work in rural health, the closer relationships between health care providers and their communities, the resource constraints that often come with rural practice, the focus on generalist rather than specialist skills and the need for greater collaboration and coordination between health care professionals.
However, all too often the innovations developed in a rural health care setting travel no further than that community. This is a loss to both for the individual community and for the health system as a whole. It means that other regions, both rural and urban, don’t benefit from innovative practices being developed elsewhere.
It also means that health care professionals with the interest and ability to engage in research and innovation don’t benefit from an engagement with the broader research community, to build on their success and develop their ideas and practices further.
This issue is being comprehensively addressed next week at the 4th Rural and Remote Scientific Symposium, being held on the 2nd and 3rd of September in Canberra.
The theme for the event is “Maximising the value of rural and remote health research” and it is auspiced by the Primary Health Care Research & Information Service (PHCRIS), Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI), Australian Rural Health Education Network (ARHEN) and the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA).
The Symposium is divided into two distinct parts, with the first day focussing on bringing clinicians interested in undertaking research in rural areas together with experienced researchers from a range of health and medical areas.
Building close and collaborative relationships between researchers and clinicians is essential in order to promote high quality health systems research. Clinicians have a vital role to play as they understand realities of practice and often have valid ideas about potential topics for research. This is particularly the case in rural areas where they can be isolated from the rest of the research community and may not have the skills or contacts to develop their ideas further.
By linking practitioners with researchers who have expertise in health issues, the Symposium aims to build and consolidate good relationships between clinicians and researchers and foster high quality research to improve rural health status.
The second day will bring researchers (and potential researchers) together with major government data collection agencies, such as the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Medicare and the National Health Performance Authority.
Health researchers often don’t have a good understanding of the huge amount of data collected by these agencies or appreciate how useful they can be in supporting their research. Similarly, the people working in these agencies are generally based in urban areas and don’t always understand the complexities involved with sharing their data.
The Symposium will provide an important opportunity to bring these two groups together and to address some issues of particular relevance to collecting and using data in rural areas.
A highlight of the Symposium will be a presentation by John Glover, who heads up the Public Health Information Development Unit, University of Adelaide, where he has developed the Social Health Atlas of Australia series, presenting small area data to describe and monitor social inequality and health inequality across Australia.
This event is primarily designed for health care providers but will be of great interest to anyone who works or is interested in rural health research issues, including researchers and potential researchers, health professionals working in rural and remote areas and people involved in government data collection relevant to rural health care.
Through supporting increased collaboration between researchers and health care professionals, the Symposium will play an important role in building a clearer picture of health care delivery in rural areas.
This will inform our understanding of how to deliver good, cost-effective services outside of capital cities and ensure that rural success stories are harnessed to drive improvements to overall health policy and practice across the country.
• Follow the conference discussions on Twitter at #ruralhealthsymp.