If you are living in one of Australia’s remote and rural areas, you might be concerned about how much money you’ll need if a medical emergency were to happen. Your distance away from cities and hospitals is probably a major source of worry. This is not only due to the cost, time and inconvenience it takes to travel to the nearest care centre, but what if you need medical assistance en-route to the hospital?
Rural and Remote Health Care in Australia
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Whatever your concerns are, we hope this guide will help you discover how to overcome these challenges and put your mind at ease. Various rural and remote health options are available to you and we’ll discuss them below.
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Various private healthcare services are available to the rural population, such as transporting doctors to very remote regions, eligible patient assisted travel schemes and affordable accommodation for parents while their child is being hospitalised.
However, remote and rural residents are often found to be less likely than urban residents to have long-term health cover, despite their economic, social and often cultural tendencies toward riskier behaviour. This is most likely due to the cost of private health insurance and many rural residents being of a lower income level.
According to 2016 statistics from the National Rural Health Alliance Inc., people living in remote areas are generally 20% more susceptible to health risks, such as diabetes and heart disease. This might be as a result of poor diet, smoking and in some cases excessive drinking. Also, maintaining good oral health in remote areas is also not always seen a priority, resulting in 37% of rural adults suffering from untreated tooth decay.
The research further revealed that:
- Suicides in rural areas of Australia was double that of urban areas.
- Coronary heart diseases claimed 40% more deaths in remote areas of Australia.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease accounted for a 60% higher death rate in people living in remote and rural areas.
- Land transport accidents resulted in five times more deaths than in metropolitan areas.
The challenges facing rural health care
One of the main challenges of rural health insurance is the continuing shortage of qualified medical professionals. Remote areas have the lowest number of doctors per capita, thus limiting their access to immediate medical attention, which in turn leads to a lower life expectancy and higher rates of injury and disease. Rural communities face many challenges, including:
- Chronic conditions: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a common lung disease that causes difficulty in breathing, resulted in 40% more deaths in rural areas. Diabetes was also found to be a common chronic condition requiring strict medical observation and podiatry, which is not easily accessible in remote Australia.
- Detection and treatment of illnesses: Poor access to health professionals jeopardises both early detection and the necessary care required during recovery.
- Lower income: Due to their generally lower income levels, people in outlying areas might neglect injuries which could lead to infection or self-medicate when feeling ill.
- Pregnancy: Complications when giving birth, without immediate access to emergency services, could affect the wellbeing of the mother and child.
- Mental Health: Remote areas have less than half the number of psychologists and 65% fewer occupational therapists than in urban areas. These factors contribute to a higher percentage of mental health problems going undiagnosed and untreated.
Yes, private cover is an additional expense, but in the long-term it can help you save you a lot of money and provide you peace of mind. It’s a great feeling knowing you and your family will be covered in case of a medical emergency. To ensure you are able to afford these services, we’ve compiled a list of ways you can save on your private health insurance:
- Join before your 31st birthday and avoid paying the 2% penalty, which will be added to your base rate premium.
- Tailor your policy to include only what you need. Do not pay for any unnecessary extras. Know what you want cover for and only invest in that.
- If you have a family member who is a teacher or doctor, you may be eligible to join their health fund and receive reduced rates.
- Try and pay for your entire premium before April 2, to lock in the previous year’s rate.
- Save as much as you can by capping the amount you claim.
- Don’t be afraid to compare policy premiums and switch if you to a more affordable option.
- When you increase the excess you have to pay, your monthly premiums will also be lower.
Rural health care in Australia according to state
When you know which health services and online support options are available in your area, you will be better equipped to handle medical emergencies and take care of your family’s health. Below is a list of health services available in your territory.
The Northern Territory (NT), a vast rural area, is a unique place to live, work and travel to. Even though health services are scarce there are still options available to you, in fact there are 8 NT Community Care Centres available:
- Alice Springs Community Health Centre
- Casuarina Community Health Centre
- Katherine Community Health Centre
- Karama Child and Family Health Clinic
- Nhulunbuy Community Health Centre
- Nylander Child Health Clinic
- Palmerston Community Care Centre
- Tennant Creek Community Health Centre
Health services available in the Northern Territory of Australia
|Primary health care|
|Mental health||You have two options:|
|Dental services||Free dental services are available to:|
|Aerial medical services||Careflight NT offers a 24 hour aerial critical care retrieval service to Top End members.|
Queensland rural and remote
Despite the remoteness of most of Queensland, you’ll find a mix of district, rural and community hospitals spread out over the area. Healthcare centres generally offer health services, with rural health services supported by visiting medical officers and remote area nurses.
You’ll also find that multidisciplinary teams are used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, making a wide range of primary health care services available to you.
The need to travel to a medical professional can be reduced with Queensland Telehealth which uses video and audio technology to connect rural residents with major hospitals and specialists.
You might want to investigate the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme (PTSS). This scheme offers subsidies for clinically appropriate, cost-effective transport by rail, air, bus or motor vehicle. However, if you want to apply for PTSS you must be eligible for Medicare, meaning you have:
- permanent residence in Australia, or
- applied for a permanent visa (excluding a parent visa) or
- cover by Reciprocal Health Care Agreement within another country.
South Australia Health services
South Australia Health Services are designed to maintain and improve health care in remote and rural areas. Health services available to you include those in the table below.
|Emergency medical care|
|Primary and community care|
|Intermediate and acute care|
Tasmania rural health insurance
The OneHealth system was recently introduced to integrate and streamline healthcare in Tasmania.
|e-health and on-line services|
|Mental health and well-being|
|Emergency assistance||There are two numbers to call in case of an emergency:
|Travelling to receive medical services|
Victoria rural health services
Most rural hospitals have an Urgent Care Centre that provides emergency care and assistance in the community. Aboriginal, community and bush nursing hospitals can also be found across Victoria.
The Victorian Patient Transport Assistance Scheme (VPTAS) subsidises some of the costs incurred when travelling more than 100km’s one way, when you need to see a medical specialist.
If you are planning on starting a family and want to give birth in a public hospital, there are various child birthing options offered. The level of care you will receive during your pregnancy will depend on:
- Your health
- Your risk of complications
- Where you live
- Your availability
- Your preferences
WA covers about a third of Australia, and has many isolated areas. It is vital that you know how to access health services in this region.
|Rural Outreach Fund|
|Pregnancy and childbirth|
|Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS)|
New South Wales
Although rural and remote health services in NSW may be few and far between, help is always available when you need it. Services available to you include:
- Helpline links isolated people with professionals who can help.
- Online resources and tools, with downloadable apps, are available. Use reputable services such as Healthdirect’s service finder.
- Healthdirect offers free 24-hour non-urgent health advice on 1800 022 222.
- Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS) subsidises travel costs for specialist services, if you are eligible.
Make sure you are covered, even if it is with the most basic of health cover. The benefits of funding your health and well-being should not be under-estimated.
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