Patterns of mental healthcare provision in rural areas: A demonstration study in Australia and Europe
Frontiers in Psychiatry
Introduction: Mental healthcare systems are primarily designed to urban populations. However, the specific characteristics of rural areas require specific strategies, resource allocation, and indicators which fit their local conditions. This planning process requires comparison with other rural areas. This demonstration study aimed to describe and compare specialized rural adult mental health services in Australia, Norway, and Spain; and to demonstrate the readiness of the healthcare ecosystem approach and the DESDE-LTC mapping tool (Description and Evaluation of Services and Directories of Long Term Care) for comparing rural care between countries and across areas. Methods: The study described and classified the services using the DESDE-LTC. The analyses included context analysis, care availability, placement capacity, balance of care, and diversity of care. Additionally, readiness (Technology Readiness Levels - TRL) and impact analyses (Adoption Impact Ladder - AIL) were also assessed by two independent raters. Results: The findings demonstrated the usability of the healthcare ecosystem approach and the DESDE-LTC to map and identify differences and similarities in the pattern of care of highly divergent rural areas. Day care had a greater weight in the European pattern of care, while it was replaced by social outpatient care in Australian areas. In contrast, care coordination was more common in Australia, pointing to a more fragmented system that requires navigation services. The share between hospital and community residential care showed no differences between the two regions, but there were differences between catchment areas. The healthcare ecosystem approach showed a TRL 8 (the tool has been demonstrated in a real-world environment and it is ready for release and general use) and an AIL of 5 (the target public agencies provided resources for its completion). Two experts evaluated the readiness of the use of DESDE-LTC in their respective regional studies. All of them were classified using the TRL. Discussion: In conclusion, this study strongly supports gathering data on the provision of care in rural areas using standardized methods to inform rural service planning. It provides information on context and service availability, capacity and balance of care that may improve, directly or through subsequent analyses, the management and planning of services in rural areas.
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