The RFDS research team gather evidence about, and recommend solutions to, improving rural health outcomes and health service access for patients and communities cared for by RFDS programs. 

RFDS research shows a long-term disparity in health outcomes between city and bush, which drives the Service to create innovative models of professional health care and build delivery capacity to meet the needs of rural and remote communities. 


Seven million Australians live in remote and rural Australia. On average, these seven million Australians have poorer health outcomes and live shorter lives than city residents. 

  • The premature death rate is 1.6 times higher in remote Australia than in city areas.
  • The percentage of people in remote areas with arthritis, asthma, deafness, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease is higher than in cities. 
  • Health behaviours of people in country areas are less conducive to good health than people in cities, with higher rates of smoking,obesity, and alcohol misuse in remote areas than in cities.

Royal Flying Doctor Research Publications

Graphic: Broken Hill Mental Health team

Survey Highlights Importance of Understanding in Mental Health

09 Oct 2021

A new research report by the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) research team, in collaboration with the Australian Catholic University (ACU), found that a better understanding of mental health leads to better outcomes for individuals and the whole community.

More details

Graphic: seeing the doctor

Equitable health access for all Australians

17 Dec 2020

As part of a submission to the Federal Government's Inquiry into Regional Australia, the RFDS has just released a new research paper entitled 'Equitable Patient Access to Primary Healthcare in Australia'.

More details

Cardiovascular Disease Prevention & Rehabilitation in Rural and Remote Populations

New RFDS research details how, cardiac rehabilitation services, if made available in the bush, could prevent as many as 80% of premature deaths from cardiac disease. One in five RFDS emergency flights are for heart attack and stroke. An average of 112 patients per-week are retrieved by the RFDS from country areas for heart treatment. Remote Australians are 1.6 times more likely to be hospitalised for coronary heart disease than people in major cities, and 1.3 times more likely to die.

Read more

Hearing Australia Trial

Hearing loss affects some 3.6 million Australians and is predicted to more than double by 2060 in line with Australia’s ageing population. In 2017, hearing loss was estimated to affect one in seven people in Australia, including as many as three out of four people aged over 70 years.

Read more

Looking Ahead: Responding to the Health Needs of Country Australia in 2028

RFDS research provides a health forecast for 2028, the centenary year of the RFDS. The report finds that while Australia’s remote population is forecast to grow only marginally in a decade, chronic illness will rise dramatically, with the burden of mental illness forecast to increase by a fifth, if action is not taken to halt current trends.

Read more

Healthy Ageing in Rural and Remote Australia: Challenges to Overcome

RFDS research finds that thousands of remote Australians aged over 65 are flown by aeromedical teams to hospitals with illnesses that could have been prevented through increased country health services. The population of remote Australia is getting older, but the nation is yet to work out how to support people to age and stay in the bush. Neurological conditions of ageing - dementia and Alzheimer’s - will significantly increase within the bush in a decade.

Read more

Cardiovascular health in remote and rural communities

RFDS Research found that remote Australians are 1.6 times more likely to be hospitalised for coronary heart disease than people in major cities, and 1.3 times more likely to die. It also found Indigenous Australians were 1.7 times more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to die from coronary heart disease.

Read more

Mental Health in Rural and Remote Communities

Each year, around one in five, or 960,000, remote and rural Australians experience a mental disorder. The prevalence of mental disorders in remote and rural Australia is the same as that in major cities, making mental disorders one of the few illnesses that does not have higher prevalence rates in country Australia compared to city areas.

Read more

Bush Needs Survey

Access to health care in the bush is paramount. Many people in rural, regional and remote communities across Australia continue to experience difficulty in accessing adequate medical care and health outreach programs. This study, gives a voice to our regional population, among many of which are farmers. Respondents identified core health areas that require more investment including: access to medical services; mental health; health promotion and prevention.

Read more

Providing Aeromedical care to Remote Indigenous Communities

This research considers the health of Indigenous Australians living in remote and very remote areas and details illness and accident demand for aeromedical retrievals by the RFDS. Timely and accessible medical care is crucial for Indigenous Australians who have poorer health outcomes compared with non-Indigenous Australians. In addition to ensuring the provision of culturally appropriate primary health care and other health services for Indigenous Australians in these areas.

Read more

Responding to Injuries in Rural and Remote Australia

This report shows that across almost every category of non-intentional and intentional injuries, incidence rates and associated death and morbidity are higher in remote and rural areas. In some parts of Australia the injury rate is almost double for remote residents compared with city residents. Access to timely medical care can influence patient outcomes following an injury. RFDS aeromedical teams are often tasked to retrieve patients who have suffered an injury and are in a remote location.

Read more

Filling the Gap: Disparities in oral health access and outcomes

Residents of remote and rural Australia have poorer oral health than residents of major cities in Australia. While approximately one quarter of adults living in major cities have untreated tooth decay, prevalence increases as distance from a capital city rises, with more than one third of remote area residents living with untreated decay. Untreated tooth decay for Indigenous Australians is even higher, with more than half of Indigenous Australians having one or more teeth affected by decay.

Read more

90 Years of Unparalleled Service

09 Oct 2018

The RFDS has evolved from an early vision of an “aerial experiment” into a remarkable 24-hour, 7 days a week health service to enable people in rural and remote Australia, and who are beyond regular medical infrastructure, to access medical care in metropolitan-based tertiary hospitals.

More details
Clinical Research

Clinical Research

The Research and Policy Unit hosts the Royal Flying Doctor Service's Clinical and Health Services Research Committee. You can find details on the composition of the committee here.

Read more
Rural and remote

Defining Rural and Remote

Royal Flying Doctor research is specifically pertinent and related to rural and remote Australia, so it is vital that we define what these terms actually mean.

Read more
Research staff

Research and Policy Unit staff

The RFDS research is conducted by a small team in Canberra, ACT. Here are details on the composition, skills and experience of our team.

Read more

Service Planning and Operational Tool

01 Feb 2019

As an Australian first, the RFDS use a Service Planning and Operational Tool called ‘SPOT’. SPOT is a custom made software, developed to assist the RFDS in planning where services should be located, relative to need. This is done by mapping existing services and overlaying these with population data

More details

Research & Policy Unit

The Royal Flying Doctor Service's Research and Policy Unit was established in mid-2015. Its three purposes are to:

1) Voice and respond to health outcome and clinical service needs of country Australians, informed by RFDS clinical data and other sourced evidence;

2) Fulfil the Safety and Quality in Health Care standard requirement to be an organization driven by information;

3) Make publicly available RFDS clinical data and clinical research findings to contribute to public policy and clinical practice improvements.

The Research and Policy Unit can be contacted on 02 6269 5500 or by email.

Subscribe here to stay up to date with RFDS Research and Policy Updates: