Research to define the meaning of 'rural'

New research on the definition of the term 'rural' is expected to have a major impact on the development of health policy.

The Health Research Council is funding the research, which aims to develop a consistent definition of the term.

The project has been welcomed by the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network which represents almost every rural medical practice in the country, as well as the Rural Hospital Network and Rural Nurses.

NZRGPN Chief Executive, Dalton Kelly said it was an important development.

"Generating a clear and consistent definition of what we mean by the term 'rural' sounds mundane and, frankly, boring," he said 

"But the lack of a consistent definition is leading to inefficient and poorly designed policy and the inability to accurately measure rural outcomes," said Kelly.

"We have been pushing for this research to be funded as a priority as it is critical to improving rural health outcomes and the development of effective rural health policy."

Kelly said there were currently at least 17 different ways in which the term 'rural' was defined in the New Zealand health system. 

"By way of an example as to why this is important, around 40 percent of people who access rural health services are currently classified as 'urban' under the Statistics New Zealand definition, while 20 percent of people currently classified as 'rural' actually have ready access to urban health services."

"As a result, we simply cannot accurately measure outcomes or performance in the rural sector," he said.

He said the research would provide a bedrock for future measurement and benchmarking and he hoped it would be adopted across government. 

"Funding for this research is consistent with the Government's Future Proofing policy and its findings will be very important to consider in the design and establishment of a network of rural health training hubs over the coming months and years."