Some preliminary ideas from the APS Rural and Distance Client Services Taskforce

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By Anne Lipzker MAPS, Chair of the Taskforce and David Stokes MAPS, Manager, Professional Issues, APS National Office

The Rural and Distance Client Services Taskforce was appointed by the Professional Practice Advisory Group, an Advisory Group to the APS Board of Directors, at its first meeting this year. The Taskforce grew out of concern about the equitable provision of psychological services in rural areas with the introduction of the new Medicare initiative. Additionally, there was an acknowledgement of the need to support the special requirements of psychologists working in regional and rural areas.

The aims of the Taskforce are twofold: firstly, to document the current difficulties in the provision of adequate psychological services in rural areas and to develop solutions to address these; and secondly, to investigate the special needs of rural psychologists for general supervision, support and Professional Development (PD) in order to meet Registration Board, Medicare and APS College and general membership requirements.

Some of the preliminary ideas that the Taskforce is currently developing to support rural psychologists and to increase the rural psychology workforce and capacity are outlined below.

Support arrangements

Possible options to assist the isolated rural professional to find opportunities for PD, networking and peer support include:

  • Real and virtual peer networks
  • Distance supervision
  • Access to a register of expert consultants
  • Online PD programs
  • Video-conferenced supervision and PD
  • Specially supported student placements
  • Resources modelled on those used by the Rural Health Education Foundation (see www.rhef.com.au).

Networking among practitioners

Most rural practitioners require networks that provide access to divergent expertise that is needed either occasionally, consistently or only on a one-off occasion. These networks may not have fellow professional psychologists but may nonetheless include professionals in related areas such as health, education or the law. Such networks may be accessed by face-to-face, internet, teleconference or phone contact.

Access to expert consultation

A facility that would greatly assist rural practitioners is access to expert clinical advice. An APS-supported Expert Consultation Register could be made available on a national basis, as consultation does not have the same distance constraints as supervision. By its nature the contact would be one-off or occasional, with the emphasis on transmission of information.

Continuing Professional Development

The provision of high quality and accessible Professional Development has been a longstanding issue for rural and remote psychologists. This will be a major focus of a second Professional Practice Tasksforce that combines professional and PD interests. Electronic and web-based services are going to be of great assistance to these initiatives. Watch this space!

Increasing the rural psychology workforce and capacity

There is a clear need to attract and then retain more psychologists in rural areas. Some of the strategies outlined below have been used successfully for the medical workforce and should be considered to expand the psychology workforce in rural locations.

  • Incorporate a unit in the 3rd or 4th year of psychology training relating to rural practice
  • Link training places to rural health scholarships
  • Establish a HECS reimbursement scheme
  • Structure clinical training programs so that rural placements can be facilitated
  • Provide an Early Career Incentive Payments Scheme similar to the GP Registrars Scheme
  • Establish a Reciprocal Metro-Rural Locum Scheme, where a rural and metropolitan psychologist undertake reciprocal locums

Alternative modes of delivery of psychological services in rural locations

  • Visiting specialist psychological services
  • Consultant model
  • Tele-psychology
  • Videoconferenced psychological services
  • Online psychological services

Recommendations for APS action

  • Explore methods of facilitating and enacting Supervision and Consultation Registers
  • Investigate, and where appropriate advocate for, removal of constraints on the distance provision of supervision
  • Develop a proposal for a psychological specialist outreach assistance program
  • Develop a proposal for a trial of Medicare-funded distance provision of psychological services (using telephone and video modes of delivery compared with face-to-face)
  • Develop proposals for incentives to encourage rural students into psychology
  • Develop a rural health workforce retention strategy