Policy makers' perceptions of the high burden of heart disease in rural Australia: implications for the implementation of evidence-based rural health policy
journal contributionposted on 2019-04-16, 00:00 authored by Laura AlstonLaura Alston, Melanie NicholsMelanie Nichols, Steven AllenderSteven Allender
BACKGROUND: Rural Australian populations experience an increased burden of ischaemic heart disease (IHD) compared to their metropolitan counterparts, similar to other developed countries, globally. Policy and other efforts need to address and acknowledge these differences in order to reduce inequalities in health burden. This paper examines rural health policy makers' perceptions and use of evidence in efforts to reduce the burden of IHD in rural areas. METHODS: Policy makers and government advisors (n = 21) who worked with, or advised on, rural health policy at local, state and federal government levels, with specific focus on the state of Victoria (n = 9) were identified from publicly available documents and subsequent snowball sample. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted in regards to the use of evidence in policy to prevent IHD and thematic analysis undertaken applying two theoretical perspectives: context-based evidence-based policy making and the conceptual framework for understanding rural and remote health. RESULTS: The rural context, particularly low resourcing, was seen as limiting potential for evidence based policy at local government (LG) level. Lower levels of political pressure and education were seen as constraints to evidence-based policy in rural communities. Participants described the potential for policy to have a greater impact on reducing heart disease in rural areas though they felt under-resourced and out of touch with the scientific evidence. Scientific studies were less valued than local anecdote to prioritise specific policy. At all levels (local, state and federal) low self-efficacy in interpreting evidence and perceived lack of relevance inhibited development of evidence informed policy. CONCLUSION: The rural context constrains the use of scientific evidence in policy making for the prevention of heart disease in rural areas in Australia with multiple factors influencing the capacity for evidenced based health policy. This is similar to findings at the international scale and is for consideration across other developed countries that experience inequalities in IHD disease burden between rural and urban populations.