RFDS primary healthcare services: More than a flying doctor

Lauren Gale1, Lara Bishop2, Martin Laverty3

1Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, Level 2, 10-12 Brisbane Ave, Barton ACT 2600, lauren.gale@rfds.org.au
2C/- Above
3C/- Above


For 88 years, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) has been providing critical health services to Australians living in remote and rural areas. The best-known service of the RFDS is likely emergency aeromedical evacuations – flying medical staff to remote destinations to retrieve critically injured or unwell patients and transport them to hospitals.

Perhaps less well-known are the comprehensive primary healthcare services delivered by the RFDS in remote and rural areas, particularly in places where low population numbers make it unviable to support permanent, local health services. This includes regular fly-in fly-out general practitioner (GP) and nursing clinics; a 24/7 telehealth service; oral health programs; mental health programs; and, health promotion activities.


In 2015, the RFDS commissioned an independent report by the Centre for International Economics (CIE) to assess the value of RFDS primary health services, drawing on previously unpublished RFDS data.


The CIE report demonstrated that every year around 65,000 people are seen by RFDS primary healthcare staff, including dentists and allied health professionals, and have access to GP consultations over the phone and to pharmaceuticals in almost 1,800 remote locations. The CIE demonstrated the importance of the innovative service model of the RFDS in communities too small to support all the health services required, and where there are huge travel and time costs accessing primary and tertiary care facilities.

Discussion / recommendations:

In this presentation, the CIE’s findings will be outlined and the service model that delivers the suite of RFDS primary healthcare, dental, telehealth and other services described and quantified.


Dr Lara Bishop is the Research and Policy Manager for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. She recently completed a discussion paper that explored injuries sustained by remote and rural Australians, and compared these to those living in major cities. She is currently conducting research around the disparities in health outcomes for remote and rural Indigenous Australians across a range of illnesses and injuries, such as respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, skin diseases etc. Lara is also a visiting fellow at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, where she is involved in research investigating the health literacy of parents of 0-2 year olds, as part of the right@home randomised controlled trial of sustained nurse home visiting, being conducted in Victoria and Tasmania.

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