Flight nurse and patient

Graphic: Flight nurse and patient

Remote life can be heartbreaking

Date published

08 May 2018

To highlight the differences between care and services in the city and in the rural and remote communities the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) released a research paper Cardiovascular health in remote and rural communities that outlines some alarming statistics and shows there is a higher burden on these communities. 

People living in remote communities are 1.6 times more likely to be hospitalised for coronary disease and 1.3 times more likely to die from it compared to those living in the cities. Sadly, the statistics are even more concerning for indigenous communities who are 1.7 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than non-indigenous Australians. 

Using aeromedical data from July 2013 to December 2016, the RFDS calculated that 21 per cent of the 95,723 emergency evacuations we conducted involved patients with cardiovascular disease. That’s some 20,000 potentially life-or death aeromedical transports. 

Not only are great distances a barrier, there is also a shortage of services in remote communities. RFDS research estimates those living in remote and rural communities have half the services available to those in the cities and only one-third of the number of medical specialists to treat them. 

What is cardiovascular disease? The National Heart Foundation of Australia describes it as a disease or condition involving the heart and blood vessels and falling under coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure. 

The probability of someone suffering from cardiovascular disease depends on a number of factors.

Smoking, alcohol, blood pressure, diet, lifestyle, and socioeconomic status all play a part. Importantly, however, the disease is largely preventable with access to culturally appropriate prevention and treatment services. 

Remote and rural Australians are more exposed than city dwellers to cardiovascular disease with; higher rates of smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, higher blood pressure and lower levels physical activity. They also have poorer diets and consume less than the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables. 

Investment in proven programs gets results. From 2001 and 2008 the South Australian Integrated Cardiovascular Clinical Network established a support program for rural and remote primary care services to manage heart attacks. After the program was evaluated it found a 22 per cent improvement in 30-day survival rates for patients almost closing the disparity that had existed between city and country hospitals. 

As a vital primary healthcare provider, the RFDS is helping to reduce the disparity in cardiovascular disease between city and country. For example, Medical specialists from the RFDS South Eastern Section, working in conjunction with other health services and community organisations, undertake early prevention checks. As well as a physical health check they can advise on how to adjust diet, lifestyle or medical treatments to minimise the risk of cardiovascular disease.

These outreach programs are carried out alongside cardiovascular disease related aeromedical transports that account for 16 patient transports each day. By lending your support, you can help the RFDS continue to provide these early prevention, and treatment services to rural and remote communities.