I was recently struck by the enormous range of activities that our rural and remote GPs, and practice staff, get involved with in their communities every day - many of which have nothing to do with what we traditionally see as the role of a rural GP.
There are lots of things going on behind the scenes that I thought is worth sharing to get a better understanding of both the challenges and rewards of rural and remote practice.
Almost 90 percent of us visit a GP every year, so we are familiar with what our local doc does during a consultation.
Our local GP talks to us about what is concerning us, may do a physical examination or take tests such as blood pressure and uses their decade long training to diagnose the likely cause. They then propose a treatment plan which may involve medication, or things we can change in our lifestyle, that will improve our health.
While this work seems pretty straight forward, all sorts of things happen behind the scenes. Nursing staff are often involved in providing treatments such as vaccinations or diagnostic tests. We might be referred to pathology to get bloods with the on-site pathology service organised by the GP Practice. We may get a referral to an off-site medical imaging service for an X-Ray or MRI, the local GP might organise for you to see a specialist at the GP Practice using Telehealth (which the practice organises and coordinates with you).
The GP might also organise treatment by allied health workers including coordinating their visits to town, providing a room for the treatment and organising billing to make sure you get access to the health services that you need.
Billing is another thing. Our patients are bulk billed so the GP Practice works behind the scenes to submit a claim to Medicare on your behalf to make sure that you are receiving all your entitlements under Medicare, and that the doctor gets paid for the consultation and any bandages, stitches or other things they have to pay for to treat you.
But there is a lot more to it than that. Unlike their city cousins, rural and remote GPs often play a much larger role in coordinating access for their patients to services that they may need to address the reasons for poor health and the consequences.
For example, your rural GP may sit on a local government health or emergency planning committee. They will coordinate with housing services for patients who may be experiencing poor outcomes because of housing issues. They may help a patient with a disability apply for the NDIS or a home care package. They will work with the local Police and mental health workers around mental health, and with the local school to organise childhood vaccinations and healthy living programs.
In many cases, they will also run the local hospital emergency department, and attend at Residential Aged Care Facilities to develop health management plans for residents and look after their needs.
This work is diverse and rewarding as it enables doctors to work with other organisations to address the social determinants of health and reduce the incidence of disease, rather than just dealing with the consequences of poor health down the track.
Rural and remote GPs have always been the lynchpin of local communities creating jobs and economic activity, and making sure the community is an attractive place to live and work.
We often under-estimate what local GPs do, both in the bush and the cities.
But in rural and remote areas they struggle with inadequate funding from Medicare resulting from the Medicare payment freeze, and from sometimes poor coordination of health and human services needed to address their patients needs.
GPs are essential to the sustainability of rural and remote communities and their ongoing success. Give this, I thought it would be helpful to build a better understanding of all the things they do to keep our communities going.
Mark Burdack is the CEO of Rural and Remote Medical Services. he can be contacted on 0418974988.