Balancing technology with human relationships in the remote health setting.

Ms Deborah O’Neill1

1Rural Lap, Coffs Harbour, Australia


Technology provides unparalleled support to clinicians practicing in some of the most isolated areas of Australia. Often without the support of a doctor, remote practitioners are equipped to provide life-saving treatment by virtue of technological advances.

However, the unique nature of healthcare in the remote health setting brings with it a second consideration that is tantamount to the effective use of technology. The awareness and practice of culturally safe behaviours and attitudes can enhance the outcomes of care provided. They facilitate and underpin the essential inter-personal relationships necessary to maintain culturally safe outcomes with remote community members.

To practice successfully, healthcare providers in remote communities must be equipped with strong inter-personal skills, but most importantly, culturally sensitive and appropriate skills, the absence of which, will diminish the scope for the use of any advanced clinical skills or technology.

Optimum health outcomes in remote often rely on the connection the community senses between itself, the clinic, and the ownership that community attaches to the clinical and interpersonal space.

Community consultation enables community members to govern and develop ownership of their health service delivery, drawing direct links with the Alma Ata declaration of “health for the people, by the people”. Consultation should be entered into when introducing technological or systematic changes, or indeed, broader program changes such as the introduction of new health initiatives, the successful implementation of which can be directly attributed to inclusive community involvement from the initial development phase.

Through scholarly research and first-hand remote health practice experience (including highly successful health program implementation), this presentation will explore the positive and negative impacts of technology in a remote health setting. It will examine the all-important balance between technology and the patient/client-clinician relationships. Also discussed will be the imperative nature of community ownership and its impact on optimum healthcare delivery.




I commenced my career in remote nursing in 2010,  as an N3 in Yuendumu.   I progressed to an N4 and N5 clinic manager, living there for 2 years.  The following 3 years as clinic manager at Utj, during this time I attained 3 years clinic accreditation and the clinic was reviewed by Flinders University for the provision of outstanding primary health care.

I have been fortunate to work for NAHRLS now Rural LAP which has taken me to some of Australia’s most remote communities such as Kiwirrkurra and Oak Valley.  I have worked in over 25 remote clinics in NT, WA, SA and the Torres Strait. I am also a Remote Educator with Aspen for RAHC.

I completed the Graduate Certificate in Remote Health Practice and Graduate Certificate in Remote Health Management with Flinders University which has provided me with invaluable training for remote practice.