Pregnancy-related aeromedical retrievals in rural and remote Australia: national evidence from the Royal Flying Doctor Service

Pregnancy-related aeromedical retrievals in rural and remote Australia: national evidence from the Royal Flying Doctor Service Journal Article

BMC Health Services Research

  • Author(s): Gonzalez-Chica, David, Gillam, Marianne, Williams, Susan, Sharma, Pritish, Leach, Matthew, Jones, Martin, Walters, Lucie, Gardiner, Fergus
  • Published: 2021
  • Volume: 21
  • ISBN: 1472-6963

Abstract: Background: Inequalities in the availability of maternity health services in rural Australia have been documented, but not the impact on aeromedical retrievals. This study aims to examine the prevalence of pregnancy-related aeromedical retrievals, the most common conditions (overall and in specific age groups), and their distribution according to operation area and demographic characteristics. Methods: Cross-sectional study using administrative data from the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) including all pregnant women aged 15–49 years retrieved by the RFDS between 2015 and 2019. All pregnancy-related aeromedical retrievals were classified according to the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10, chapter XV). The distribution of pregnancy-related conditions was presented overall and stratified by age group (i.e. < 20 years, 20–34 years and 35+ years). Retrieval and receiving sites were geographically mapped with Tableau mapping software® based on postcode numbers of origin and destination. Results: A total of 4653 pregnancy-related retrievals were identified (mean age 27.8 ± 6.1 years), representing 3.1% of all RFDS transfers between 2015 and 18 and 3.5% in 2018–19 (p-value 0.01). The highest proportion of pregnancy-related retrievals (4.8%) occurred in Western operation. There was an apparent increase in pregnancy-related retrievals in South Australia and the Northern Territory (Central Operation) in 2018–19. Preterm labour/delivery was responsible for 36.4% of all retrievals (40.7% among women aged 15–19 years) and premature rupture of membranes for 14.9% (19.4% among women aged 35–49 years). Inter-hospital transfers represented 87.9% of all retrievals, with most patients relocated from rural and remote regions to urban hospitals; most retrievals occurred during the day, with a median distance of 300 km. Adolescents and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander were overrepresented in the sample (four and eight times higher than their metropolitan counterparts, respectively). Conclusions: The proportion of pregnancy-related aeromedical retrievals varies geographically across Australia. Overall, one-third of retrievals were related to preterm/delivery complications, especially among adolescents. Most retrievals performed by the RFDS are susceptible to public health strategies aimed at improving antenatal care and preventing unintended pregnancies among adolescents and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Greater capacity to manage pregnancy conditions in rural hospitals could reduce the requirement for aeromedical inter-hospital transfers.

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Suggested Citation
Gonzalez-Chica, David, Gillam, Marianne, Williams, Susan, Sharma, Pritish, Leach, Matthew, Jones, Martin, Walters, Lucie, Gardiner, Fergus, 2021, Pregnancy-related aeromedical retrievals in rural and remote Australia: national evidence from the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Volume:21, Journal Article, viewed 22 October 2021, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=24811.

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