The stability of rural outreach services: a national longitudinal study of specialist doctors

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OBJECTIVE: To explore the characteristics of specialists who provide ongoing rural outreach services and whether the nature of their service patterns contributes to ongoing outreach.

DESIGN, PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: Specialist doctors providing rural outreach in a large longitudinal survey of Australian doctors in 2008, together with new entrants to the survey in 2009, were followed up to 2011.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Providing outreach services to the same rural town for at least 3 years.

RESULTS: Of 953 specialists who initially provided rural outreach services, follow-up data were available for 848. Overall, 440 specialists (51.9%) provided ongoing outreach services. Multivariate analysis found that participation was associated with being male (odds ratio [OR], 1.82; 95% CI, 1.28-2.60), in mid-career (45-64 years old; OR, 1.44; 95% CI, 1.04-1.99), and working in mixed, mainly private practice (OR, 1.73; 95% CI, 1.18-2.53). Specialists working only privately were less likely to provide ongoing outreach (OR 0.51; 95% CI, 0.32-0.82), whereas metropolitan and rural-based specialists were equally likely to do so. Separate univariate analysis showed travelling further to remote towns had no effect on ongoing service provision. Outreach to smaller towns was associated with improved stability.

CONCLUSIONS: Around half of specialists providing rural outreach services continue to visit the same town on an ongoing basis. More targeted outreach service strategies should account for career stage and practice conditions to help sustain access. Financial incentives may increase ongoing service provision by specialists only working privately. There is some indication that outreach services delivered to smaller communities are more stable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297.e1-297.e6
Number of pages6
JournalThe Medical Journal of Australia
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2015

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