If you think you need an ambulance or your injury or illness is critical or life threatening, call triple zero (000).
- People living in regional, rural and remote areas may find it harder to access some health services.
- Telehealth services may be available so people living in rural and remote areas don’t always have to travel to access health services.
- This article outlines health services for people living in rural and remote areas.
Remote health services
The Rural Health Outreach Fund helps rural Australians access medical specialists, GPs, 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. The RFDS provides radio or phone consultation services. This is available 24/7 to patients in remote areas, their families and healthcare workers.
They also provide:
- fly-in fly-out GP and nurse clinics
- mobile dental services
- patient transfers
- mental health services in some states
Larger regional areas may have a tertiary or base hospital. Smaller towns might have a district hospital run by local or visiting 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 need to travel to a larger town or city to access the right health services.
FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.
Care during pregnancy and childbirth
During early pregnancy, your doctor plays an important role in performing and arranging tests.
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 specialist 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. Depending on how your pregnancy is progressing, your options may change. If you have a higher-risk pregnancy you may need to go to a hospital in a larger town or city to give birth. Your health professional can guide you on the safest options for you.
Birthing on Country is a program promoting culturally appropriate childbirth options for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 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 can help you to access maternity and other specialised health care.
Mental health issues are common, whether you live in the city or the country. It can sometimes be harder to find help in the bush.
There are many ways you can get information or counselling by phone or online, anywhere in Australia:
- Beyond Blue — 1300 22 4636 for telephone and online counselling across Australia.
- headspace — 1800 650 890 for phone and online counselling for young people aged 12-25.
- Kids Helpline — 1800 55 1800 for free 24/7 online and phone counselling services for young people aged 5-25.
- The National Rural Health Alliance provides fact sheets for a range of services that are available in rural communities, including help for specific groups such as:
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people
- culturally and linguistically diverse communities
- defence force and veterans
- diverse sex, genders and sexualities
For access to crisis support and suicide prevention services call Lifeline on 13 11 14, available 24 hours a day / 7 days a week.
In remote areas, face-to-face access to health care resources can be difficult. Accessing quality health care in the bush is getting easier with the use of technology.
Telehealth means you have a virtual consultation with a doctor. It usually takes place by videoconferencing. It is a secure and private conversation, just like seeing your doctor in person.
Medicare rebates are available for rural, regional and remote patients:
- telehealth specialist consultations
- Aboriginal Medical Services
- any resident of an aged care facility
- telehealth consultations for mental health services through the Better Access Program
To qualify for these rebates, you and your specialist must be at least 15km apart.
You can also use the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby's video call service to speak face-to-face with a maternal child health nurse. Video call is a free service and is available from 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week (including public holidays).
After hours medical advice
Depending on your location, after-hours health services may be available if you need healthcare outside of the normal operating hours of your regular general practice.
After-hours health services are for people who need medical assistance but don’t need a hospital emergency department.
If you have a health concern and you’re not sure what to do, you can phone healthdirect on 1800 022 222 at any time to speak to a registered nurse (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). You can get health advice 24 hours a day.
Depending on the problem, you may be advised how to manage your symptoms until you can see your usual doctor or to go to your nearest health service.
Patient assisted travel scheme
Each state and territory has a Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS) to provide financial help for rural Australians. This is to access specialist health care that requires travelling out of their area.
Rebates enable your doctor, nurse or Aboriginal health worker to join you during appointments.
My Health Record is a secure online summary of your health information. My Health Record assists communication between hospitals, specialists, doctors and other health services, to improve medical care.
First aid saves lives. It is especially important to know first aid in the bush and other areas further away from medical services. You can do training through:
Resources and support
For more information about accessing healthcare (including mental health care) in rural and remote areas see:
- The National Rural Health Alliance
- The Royal Flying Doctors Service
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people call 13YARN (13 92 76)
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: September 2023