Raising a family in the country offers many benefits, but reduced access to health services in the bush is a concern for many parents. For safety, optimal health and wellbeing, medical services play a vital role in caring for rural families. It’s helpful to know what services are available.
Remote health services
The Rural Health Outreach Fund assists rural Australians to access medical specialists, GPs, and allied and other health providers through different outreach services.
Many families living remotely rely on services like the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) for general or emergency medical care. RFDS provides radio or phone consultation services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to patients in the outback, their families and healthcare workers in remote areas. They also provide fly-in fly-out GP and nurse clinics, mobile dental services, patient transfers, and mental health services in some states.
Larger regional centres may have a tertiary or base hospital whereas smaller towns might have a district hospital run by regional or locum doctors. Some smaller communities without a hospital have a multipurpose health service or medical centre. Patients in more remote areas who need specialist care may be transported to a larger centre.
Find your nearest health service by searching the National Health Services Directory.
Care during pregnancy and childbirth
During early pregnancy, your doctor plays an important role in performing antenatal maternal health checks and arranging tests.
Later in pregnancy, you can see a midwife, an obstetrician, or both. In the country, many doctors offer a shared care arrangement where they team up with an obstetrician or midwives to care for pregnant women.
Some doctors in rural areas are qualified in obstetrics and can deliver babies. Midwives also deliver babies, but they will call a GP qualified in obstetrics or obstetrician if there are difficulties during childbirth.
You might have your baby in a hospital or a birthing centre. Some hospitals and midwives offer a home birth service for eligible women. Depending on how well your pregnancy is progressing, your options may change. Women with a higher-risk pregnancy may need to go to a hospital in a larger centre to give birth. Your health professional can advise you on the safest options for you.
Birthing on Country is a program that encourages health services to offer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women the chance to have a culturally appropriate birth. Ask your local midwife, Aboriginal health service, hospital, birthing centre or primary health network what is available where you live.
Outreach programs in some areas facilitate access to maternity and other specialised health care.
In remote areas, face-to-face access to health care resources can be difficult. Many doctors and health services offer phone or videoconference appointments. Accessing quality health care in the bush is getting easier with the innovative use of technology. Medicare rebates are available for telehealth specialist consultations to rural, regional and remote patients.
See eHealth support for rural families for more information and links to resources.
Patient Assisted Travel Scheme
Each state and territory has a Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS). These schemes provide financial assistance for rural Australians to access specialist health care that requires travelling out of their area.
First aid saves lives. First aid is a useful skill anywhere, but in the bush and other areas further away from medical assistance, it is even more important. You can access training through the Royal Lifesaving Society, St John Ambulance or the Australian Red Cross.
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Last reviewed: July 2019