Adoption, implementation and prioritization of specialist outreach policy in Australia: A national perspective

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Abstract

The World Health Organization has endorsed the use of outreach to promote: efficient redeployment of the health-care workforce; continuity of care at the local level; and professional support for local, rural, health-care workers. Australia is the only country that has had, since 2000, a sustained national policy on outreach for subsidizing medical specialist outreach to rural areas. This paper describes the adoption, implementation and prioritization of a national specialist outreach policy in Australia. Adoption of the national policy followed a long history of successful outreach, largely driven by the professional interest and personal commitment of the workforce. Initially the policy supported only new outreach services but concerns about the sustainability of existing services resulted in eligibility for funding being extended to all specialist services. The costs of travel, travel time, accommodation, professional support, staff relief at specialists primary practices and equipment hire were subsidized. Over time, a national political commitment to the equitable treatment of indigenous people resulted in more targeted support for outreach in remote areas. Current priorities are: (i) establishing team-based outreach services; (ii) improving local staff s skills; (iii) achieving local coordination; and (iv) conducting a nationally consistent needs assessment. The absence of subsidies for specialists clinical work can discourage private specialists from providing services in remote areas where clinical throughput is low. To be successful, outreach policy must harmonize with the interests of the workforce and support professional autonomy. Internationally, the development of outreach policy must take account of the local pay and practice conditions of health workers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)512 - 519
Number of pages8
JournalBulletin of the World Health Organization
Volume92
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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