Research suggests new roles in health

Research suggests new roles in health

25 Feb 2011

La Trobe University’s Professor of Rural and Regional Health Policy and Head of La Trobe Rural Health School will urge health professionals to consider non-traditional ways of providing health services in rural communities when she delivers a presentation at the Victorian Healthcare Associations 2011 rural health conference.

Jane FarmerProfessor Jane Farmer will include evidence from her innovative research studies undertaken mainly in Scotland to stimulate interest from the audience and encourage thinking outside the square.

One of Professor Farmer’s researches involved people from four different remote communities in designing the services that they considered would best meet their future health needs within existing budgets.

‘The study highlighted the importance of involving community members in identifying their particular health needs,’ said Professor Farmer.

‘Participants identified proximity of the health worker/s, expert triage, ongoing monitoring and health surveillance of vulnerable people and community (health) leadership and development as priorities. Given these priorities, all of the communities arrived at a new model and all arrived at different models – none involved a GP.’

The second of Professor Farmer’s studies looked at the contributions of health care services to communities in Scotland and South Australia, over and above health care delivery.

‘While health services provided jobs, social meeting places and a source of local status, the additional value provided by individual health professionals varied depending on their participation in social and community leadership activities, the money they spent locally, and whether their children went to local schools,’ Professor Farmer said.

‘In Australia, although some of the health professionals made low contributions to communities as individuals, they were highly sought after.  Some participants implied that any GP is better than nobody.’

Professor Farmer’s third study considered the role of a new type of health professional – the physician assistant. These professionals have basic medical training and studies have found they are safe, highly regarded by patients, can conduct much of the basic work of doctors and cost a lot less. 

‘Clearly, rural communities could benefit greatly by having a physician assistant available to them. Nonetheless, it is difficult for PAs to breakthrough as a new profession, partly due to professional barriers raised by existing professions in healthcare,’ said Professor Farmer.

In her conclusion, Professor Farmer will suggest that rural health services would benefit from working with local communities and citizens, sharing budgets and other relevant information.

‘Rural health services have status value for their communities along with economic and social values. However, job titles such as GP or nurse are problematic as people tend to fixate on them. The focus needs to be on needs and community priorities should be sought and incorporated in the decision-making process.’

Professor Farmer said that while the contribution of individual health professionals might currently vary, universities have an important role to play in appropriate education, especially around attitudes.

‘It’s important that universities strive to imbue students with the right approaches to health service provision so that they can help clients and communities. Rural people want local health professionals with the appropriate skills and expertise to meet their needs.’

‘Alternatives to the traditional model of doctors and/or nurses should be considered.  There is a range of highly skilled health and human services professionals with the potential to provide the high quality health services that different communities might need, and potentially at lower cost to the public purse. However, change can be resisted by the professions and politicians.’

Professor Farmer will present her findings on Thursday 24 February on the first day of the Victorian Healthcare Association’s two-day Rural Health Conference at the Novotel Forest Resort in Creswick, near Ballarat.


Media enquiries

Professor Jane Farmer, La Trobe Rural Health School, M 0435 964 579


Jane Sheats, Victorian Healthcare Association, M 0407 002 619


Zerin Knight, La Trobe University, Ph (03) 5444 7375 F +613 5444 7526 M 0428 463 161 E




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