Introduction

Overcoming access barriers in relation to primary health care is crucial to achieving equitable health outcomes for Australians living in rural and remote areas.  To address this issue, in 2011, the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute has established a Centre of Research Excellence in accessible and equitable primary health service provision in rural and remote Australia (CRE).

This Centre comprised a collaboration between Monash University School of Rural Health (Chief Investigators Professor John Humphreys and Dr Matthew McGrail), the Centre for Remote Health, a joint centre of Flinders University and Charles Darwin University in Alice Springs (Chief Investigator Professor John Wakerman), and the University of Sydney Department of Rural Health in Broken Hill (Chief Investigator Professor David Lyle).

The aims underpinning the CRE in rural and remote primary health care are to develop:

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A better understanding of health behaviour relating to primary health care service utilisation in rural and remote Australia;
 • Better measures of access to guide resource allocation relating to primary health care in small rural and remote communities;
 • A comprehensive framework for evaluating the impact of rural and remote primary health care services on access and equity of health outcomes; and
 • Evidence-based models of sustainable primary health care for different rural and remote contexts.

The CRE is achieving its aims through research which examines:

 • How best to measure access to primary health care services in rural and remote areas using an ‘index of access’ that links service availability with the health needs, health behaviour, service utilisation and health outcomes of different communities;
 •  What indicators best measure the primary health care services that communities require (taking account of population size, location and need), and appropriate benchmarks for these indicators; and
  • What service models work best to minimise barriers (such as distance and affordability) and maximise access to primary health care in different contexts, focusing on aged care, mental health and Indigenous health.

The results of this research are assisting consumers, providers and policymakers to plan, monitor and evaluate the equitable provision of health care for all Australians.

Embedded in the research program are three related key activities:

  • Knowledge translation into policy and practice: The research being undertaken across multiple sites has been guided by a National Advisory Committee, and has adopted an inclusive approach so that all relevant stakeholders can participate.
  • Building research capacity in rural and remote areas: A key aspect of the research program has been post-graduate and post-doctroal training, as well as engaging early career and Indigenous researchers.
  • Responding to requests for state-of-the-art evidence: The team has undertaken research, the findings of which underpin policies relevant to the provision of primary health care services in rural and remote areas.

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