Relationships with hospitals, communities and organisations in rural Victoria play a crucial role in research projects to improve the health and wellbeing of people in rural areas.
Rural communities in Australia face different health issues to city dwellers. Access to health services is reduced, health service workforce shortages are an ongoing problem and patterns of ill-health are different, with higher rates of chronic ill-health. Cultural factors may present barriers to people seeking medical advice. The Rural Health Academic Centre has an actively evolving research program focussing on these issues.
Relationships with hospitals, communities and organisations in rural Victoria play a crucial role in research projects to improve the health and wellbeing of people in rural areas. The Rural Health Academic Network (RHAN) is well established and is being used to further enhance research links with small health services and communities in rural Victoria. This collaboration is facilitated by GRHANITE™, a data extraction tool developed by the Rural Health Academic Centre, which allows clinical data from different health services to be linked.
Main research strengths
Rural health workforce
Workforce shortages are common across rural Australia. We plan to identify workforce needs in rural Victoria and undertake research into teaching and conceptual frameworks for understanding rural health, and into recruitment, retention, and research training and support for rural health professionals. Our aim is to develop evidence-based strategies for fully staffing rural health services.
Rural chronic ill-health
Rates of chronic ill-health are high in rural areas where the population is older, obesity levels are higher and access to health services is reduced. Our research addresses both prevention and treatment, with particular emphasis on cardiovascular health, diabetes and mental health. We plan to track the primary health care of patients hospitalised for chronic conditions, undertake a longitudinal analysis of patients with chronic ill-health, and trial chronic illness prevention strategies throughout rural Victoria, with particular emphasis on obesity.
Culture and rural health
Rural health services have been criticised for not being appropriate for the health needs of local populations. Cultural barriers can prevent people with, for example, mental health problems from engaging with health services. This research program integrates previous research on specific population groups to understand the interaction between the cultures of rural patients and the culture of mainstream health services in terms of impact on patient experiences. We aim to understand the place of culture in shaping rural patient experience and use the knowledge acquired to develop appropriate health services for particular rural populations.
The major source of funding comes from the Australian Government through the University Departments of Rural Health Program. Other funding comes from the Australian Research Council and the National Prescribing Service.
Our Centre, based in Shepparton, has major nodes at Ballarat and Wangaratta and associations with nearly 40 smaller towns in rural Victoria.
We also have close collaborative links with the Department of General Practice and the School of Population Health at The University of Melbourne, with Melbourne Sexual Health, and with other universities, institutes and organisations, both nationally and internationally, including The University of Manchester (UK) and Uppsala University (Sweden).