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What primary health care services should residents of rural and remote Australia be able to access? A systematic review of "core" primary health care services

17 May 2013

Background:
There are significant health status inequalities in Australia between those people living in rural and remote locations and people living in metropolitan centres. Since almost ninety percent of the population use some form of primary health care service annually, a logical initial step in reducing the disparity in health status is to improve access to health care by specifying those primary health care services that should be considered as "core" and therefore readily available to all Australians regardless of where they live. A systematic review was undertaken to define these "core" services.Using the question "What primary health care services should residents of rural and remote Australia be able to access?", the objective of this paper is to delineate those primary health care core services that should be readily available to all regardless of geography.MethodA systematic review of peer-reviewed literature from established databases was undertaken. Relevant websites were also searched for grey literature. Key informants were accessed to identify other relevant reference material. All papers were assessed by at least two assessors according to agreed inclusion criteria.
Results:
Data were extracted from 19 papers (7 papers from the peer-reviewed database search and 12 from other grey sources) which met the inclusion criteria. The 19 papers demonstrated substantial variability in both the number and nature of core services. Given this variation, the specification or synthesis of a universal set of core services proved to be a complex and arguably contentious task. Nonetheless, the different primary health care dimensions that should be met through the provision of core services were developed. In addition, the process of identifying core services provided important insights about the need to deliver these services in ways that are "fit-for--purpose" in widely differing geographic contexts.
Conclusions:
Defining a suite of core primary health care services is a difficult process. Such a suite should be fit-for-purpose, relevant to the context, and its development should be methodologically clear, appropriate, and evidence-based. The value of identifying core PHC services to both consumers and providers for service planning and monitoring and consequent health outcomes is paramount.

Date: 
17 May 2013

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