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Rural and remote medicine seeks subspecialty status

The Australian College of Rural & Remote Medicine (ACRRM) has begun the process of gaining recognition for ‘Rural Generalist Medicine’ as a specialised field within general practice. Approval of the specialisation is expected to help rural doctors address the diverse healthcare needs, including ocular issues, of remote communities.

Last week, leaders of the ACRRM, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the National Rural Health Commissioner gathered to begin the application process.

“The National Rural Generalist Taskforce consultation process has had great success with a commitment by the Commonwealth Government to invest $62.2 million over four years in this year’s federal budget,” Dr Ewan McPhee, ACRRM President, said.

“The process for attaining recognition is rigorous. It involves regulatory hurdles and an extensive step-by-step approach, including consultation with the Medical Board of Australia (MBA), the Australian Medical Council (AMC), the Office of Best Practice Regulation, and the Council for Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council.”

Dr Ayman Shenouda, RACGP Vice President and Chair of the Rural Council, said it is time to recognise the unique skills needed to address the healthcare needs of rural and rote communities.“

These doctors are broadly skilled to enable them to address important gaps in rural services such as obstetrics, mental health, palliative care, and emergency care. They are often forced to navigate complex and often conflicting training, and credentialing and employment arrangements that are inconsistent across jurisdictions and health services,” Shenouda said.

ACRRM’s Fellowship curriculum, which is designed to prepare GPs for Rural Generalist practice, recognises that within an appropriate and reasonable scope practitioners able to work in the area of ophthalmology to the top of their license.Since 2016 ACRRM has operated an online discussion program for rural doctors to connect with ophthalmologists.

Named the Opthal Assist Program, the forum utilises telehealth to help rural doctors best deal with rural patients suffering from eye health problems, and minimise the need for patients to travel to cities for treatment.