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Digital technology and rural health: What's the future?

15th March 2022

RDN research on rural health and digital technology published in international journal 

As an organisation committed to sharing knowledge and contributing to evidence-based rural health policies and programs, having our rural health research published is a great honour. This month NSW Rural Doctors Network's (RDN) Knowledge Mobilisation Unit Manager, Dr Robyn Ramsden, is guest editor for a special edition of the UK's Health Education Journal, focusing on digital technology and rural health. The edition features research from Australia, Turkey and India and includes a paper from RDN, exploring how digital technology can support rural health professional retention via improved access to education, training and support. 


"In research, some of the most cited factors that negatively influence rural health worker retention are lack of professional development opportunities, professional isolation and insufficient supervision. However, in recent years, digital technology has been opening new opportunities for rural and remote areas. This journal edition examines how digital technology can support rural health workforce education and makes recommendations about appropriate models," explains Dr Ramsden. 

In the article submitted by RDN, a literature review was conducted to evaluate the potential for online platforms to provide education, training, professional learning and support for rural health. 

The study found that in general, digital learning succeeded in increasing health professionals' knowledge and skills and that rural health professionals for the most part were highly satisfied with online education. 

It also suggested that - with rapidly increasing access to and use of digital technology - there may be immense potential to leverage digital technologies to positively impact practice change and rural workforce retention as well. 

For RDN, improved workforce retention is critical to improving rural health outcomes.  

"We want our research to influence real world change in people’s health and wellbeing in rural areas, and we believe this kind of research plays an important role in that," says RDN CEO Dr Richard Colbran. 

"In the context of workforce retention, we need to continue to explore and understand where the challenges and opportunities lie and there are clear opportunities in the digital space,” he said.  

The article concluded that as telehealth and other digital health technologies gain momentum, they will almost certainly have more prominent inclusion in health curricula, clinical placements and ongoing professional learning and support. This is particularly important in the rural context.   

“We look forward to using the research featured in this special edition to help guide the use of our own digital platform, Rural Health Pro, and ensure we follow and contribute to evidence-based best practice," said Dr Colbran.    


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