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New RDN research provides insight into patient experience of outreach programs

30th August 2022

A new peer-reviewed paper published by Rural Doctors Network (RDN) and University of Sydney research partners has shown a high level of patient satisfaction among rural and Aboriginal patients who access Outreach Program health services in NSW.


The cross-sectional study published in MDPI’s Healthcare journal was based on a questionnaire answered by 207 patients who visited outreach health services in rural and Aboriginal communities across NSW between December 2020 and February 2021.


These outreach services provide roughly 200,000 patient Occasions of Service per year and include the following programs that are funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care: Rural Health Outreach Fund, Medical Outreach Indigenous Chronic Disease Program, Healthy Ears, Healthcare 2022, Better Hearing, Better Listening Program, Ear and Eye Surgical Support Service, and the Visiting Optometrists’ Scheme.


The study revealed 93 per cent of patients were satisfied with the outreach health services. When analysing factors that contribute to satisfaction, the study found respectful behaviours from outreach health practitioners were significantly associated with higher patient satisfaction when accessing outreach clinics.

Health Systems Program Manager at RDN and contributing author to the paper, Sharif Bagnulo said the paper showed some very important findings.

"These statistically significant results indicate the vast majority of patients were satisfied when accessing outreach services supported by RDN and local partner organisations that include Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS), Local Health Districts, non-government organisations and close to 900 outreach health practitioners,” Sharif said.   

“It’s evidence these programs continue to support the health of rural and Aboriginal communities which was particularly important during these pandemic years when many outreach services had to implement rigorous infection control practices and telehealth alternatives,” he added.

 “The paper also draws on the body of evidence that supports the importance of patient satisfaction and the contribution this makes to health outcomes through building patients’ trust and increased willingness to engage with health services, adhere to care recommendations and improve health literacy.”

 “The correlation between patients feeling respected by their health practitioners and satisfaction is also a very important finding for quality improvement. Outreach and all health services can use this empirical evidence to enhance investments in health practitioner capability and promote this across the wider health sector.” 

 RDN’s decentralised program model supports local decision-making when planning and delivering outreach services because local health organisations know their communities and are well-placed to respond to patients’ needs.

“We believe the ACCHSs, that deliver most of the outreach services in Aboriginal communities directly contribute to patient satisfaction because they are experts in providing culturally safe and respectful care,” Sharif concluded. 

Ultimately, gathering data on patient experiences and satisfaction is an important element of understanding the safety and quality of health services.  

 RDN would like to build on these research findings to learn more about the outreach patient experience, how to enhance this and improve health outcomes. Future research opportunities that our partners and stakeholders identify and would like work with us on are most welcome. Please contact outreachteam@nswrdn.com.au

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