From Crops to Care: The Changing Nature of Health Care in Rural Australia

By Willow Pryor | Swinburne University Australia

Will Rural Health Care Make the Shift in Time?

The nature of life in the classic Australian rural town is changing, and fast. Where once the farm and the family formed the centre of life and the community, now family-run farms find it hard to survive as a consequence of an ageing population and the young leaving to study and find work elsewhere. In Yarriambiack Shire in Victoria’s northwest there is also the additional challenge of a growing low socio-economic group, and it is clear that change needs to occur if the ongoing viability and sustainability of this rural town is to be ensured. The questions workers at Rural Northwest Health now face are: Can we shift the culture of health care from cure to prevention in time? Who is going to look after us? Will technology help us win back our youth or will it create an even greater divide?

It was these questions, and more, that prompted the CEO of Rural Northwest Health (RNH) to organise a futures workshop with Professor Sohail Inayatullah in Yarriambiack Shire to be held on 23-24 September, 2013. In May of that year Professor Sohail Inayatullah had run a foresight workshop organised by Foresight Lane on behalf of a group of their clients, seventeen regional Victorian health services. RNH was one of these seventeen. The workshop was staged to support the development of a regional plan to improve health outcomes and enhance health service viability.  Health services in the northwest face a range of significant challenges, including ongoing fiscal constraints and population decline in parts of the region. Over forty executive staff from health services in the region gathered over two days to apply foresight processes to the futures of health in rural Victoria.

The results were clear. Participants determined there was a need for a systemic shift to balance the current focus on the treatment of illness with an increased emphasis on prevention and the promotion of well-being. The “used”  future of “Doctor knows best” was no longer best for all. It was from this position that the CEO of Rural Northwest Health returned to the Yarriambiack Shire, aware more than ever of the need for her organisation and community to evolve if they are to meet the changing health needs of community members.

From crops to care; Report