This report presents information from the 2016 Survey of Health Care (the Survey) for people living in rural and remote areas. It extends previous work done by the AIHW and Australian Bureau of Statistics [1]. The Survey is the cornerstone of the AIHW’s Coordination of Health Care Study. It examines patients’ experiences with continuity and coordination of health care in detail and provides nationally consistent and local-level information on experiences with health care providers.

Results from the Survey show that people living in Remote/Very remote areas experience poorer access to a range of health services than people in Major cities, and that people living outside Major cities experience less sharing of information between health care providers than their city counterparts. These findings support previous research about the experiences of people in rural and remote Australia [2,3]. The data tables associated with this report provide detailed results on general practitioner (GP), specialist and hospital service use and patient experiences.

What do we mean by ‘rural and remote’?

Rural and remote areas comprise 4 of the 5 remoteness groups defined by the Australian Statistical Geography Standard [4]—Inner regional, Outer regional, Remote and Very remote areas. (The fifth remoteness group is Major cities.)

Remote and Very remote areas are combined for some of the analysis in this report.      

Access to health professionals

As part of the Survey, patients were asked about any potential barriers to seeing a health professional. Compared with people living in Major cities, people in Remote/Very remote areas were:

  • more likely to report not having a GP nearby was a barrier to seeing one (20% compared with 3% for people in Major cities)
  • more likely to indicate that not having a specialist nearby was a barrier to seeing one (58% compared with 6%)
  • more likely to have been to an emergency department (ED) in the past 12 months because no GP was available when they needed one (17% compared with 10%).

Usual GP and usual place of care

Having a usual GP or place of care can improve health care for people who have chronic conditions, a complex medical history, or who take several medications [5].

The Survey results show that:

  • people living in Major cities were more likely than those living in Outer regional and Remote/Very remote Australia to have a usual GP (89% compared with 81% and 69%, respectively)
  • people living in Inner regional areas were the most likely to have a usual place of care (92%); people living in Remote/Very remote areas were the least likely (86%).

Information sharing between health professionals

The Survey included some questions about information sharing between health care providers. For example, participants were asked whether their usual GP or place of care seemed informed of their follow-up needs or medication changes after a visit to an ED, a hospital admission, or care provided at a specialist appointment.

Overall, participants living in Remote/Very remote areas were less likely than people living in other areas to indicate that their usual GP or place of care seemed informed of their follow-up needs after they had seen a health professional for their physical, emotional or psychological health, visited a specialist or had been admitted to hospital (see tables 3, 4 and 5).

The Survey of Health Care

All results are from the Survey of Health Care, which was sent to a selection of people aged 45 and over who saw a GP at least once between November 2014 and November 2015.

Survey participants gave information about their health; health service use; experiences with access, continuity and coordination of care; and their demographic characteristics.

Further information about the Survey and the Coordination of Health Care Study.


  1. ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Survey of Health Care, Australia 2016. ABS cat. No. 4343.0. Canberra: ABS.
  2. AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017. Rural & remote health (web report). Canberra: AIHW
  3. ABS 2017. Health service usage and health related actions, Australia 2014–15. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.002. Canberra: ABS.
  4. ABS 2013. Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 5- Remoteness Structure, July 2011. ABS cat. no. 1270.0.55.005. Canberra: ABS.

  5. Freeman G & Hughes J 2010. Continuity of care and the patient experience. London: The King’s Fund.