The determinants of quality in procedural rural medical care

Richard B Hays, Craig Veitch, Rebecca J Evans
Rural and Remote Health 2005, 5 (4): 473

INTRODUCTION: A substantial proportion of health services for rural Australians is provided in rural health facilities by rurally based generalist health professionals. These services include procedural care within smaller rural hospitals, where teams of health professionals--medical practitioners, nurses and other support staff--work in teams to deliver a range of procedural services, both elective and urgent, that reduce the need for rural people to travel to major centres. Recent debate over the training of rural medical practitioners has focused on whether or not they need to provide procedural services, because current health service management policy appears to support the rationalisation and centralisation of service delivery in larger centres to contain costs and ensure high quality. Hence there is an assumption, without much evidence, that the quality of care in rural hospitals is lower than that provided in larger urban hospitals, although there is little agreement on just what aspects of care should be measured to indicate its quality. This article reports an exploration of multiple perspectives on what constitutes quality of care in rural procedural medical practice, as part of a broader study of the quality of care of a series of real clinical cases.

METHODS: During the collection of a series of 91 individual patient cases involving anaesthetic, obstetric or surgical procedures conducted in small rural hospitals, interviews were conducted with several participants in each case: the rural doctors; rural nurses; the rural patients; and family members of those patients. In addition to issues pertaining to each case, interviews explored the perspectives of individuals in each group on the broader question of what constitutes quality of care in a general sense. Their comments were subjected to qualitative thematic analysis using Atlas.ti software (Muhr T, ATLAS.ti Scientific Software Development; Berlin, Germany). In order to consider how to measure rural health care, the thematic comments were then applied to a Donabedian structure/process/outcome model.

RESULTS: The different groups produced different views on what might determine the quality of health care in rural hospitals. The health professionals tended to focus on technical aspects of care, although the doctors and nurses had some different emphases, while the patients and their families were more concerned with access, interpersonal communication, convenience and cost. These themes appeared to be consistent with previous literature from general healthcare settings. A list of indicators is suggested for measuring the quality of rural health care.

CONCLUSION: This study has improved understanding of the differing views held by rural health professionals and rural patients in thinking about the quality of care provided in rural hospitals. Consideration of the quality of procedural rural medical care should include the needs and expectations of those living and working in a smaller, more familiar environment. This has implications for health planners, and suggests that there is a continuing need for rural health professionals to be trained to provide procedural medical services in rural hospitals, and for rural hospitals to be maintained at a standard necessary to support quality service provision.

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