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Supporting volunteers is necessary to ensure equitable access to palliative care in rural areas

Whittall D, Lee S, O’Connor M. Factors affecting rural volunteering in palliative care: An integrated review The Australian Journal of Rural Health. 2016, 24(6): 350–356.

Review question

  • What impact do volunteers have on the quality and accessibility of palliative care in rural Australian communities?


  • With an aging population and low population densities outside of major cities, Australia faces the challenge of an increasing number of older adults living in rural areas with limited access to needed healthcare providers.
  • Currently, volunteer participation significantly complements palliative-care services provided by healthcare professionals in rural Australian communities.
  • Nevertheless, there is limited research outlining key strategies in promoting accessible, quality palliative care with the use of volunteers. This review aims to identify the available information in the literature on this topic.

How the review was done

  • A detailed search of a number of electronic databases for studies published from 2000 to 2015 was conducted. Studies that focused on caregivers, rural palliative care and volunteering were included in the review.
  • Of the studies identified in searches, 68 were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.
  • The authors did not acknowledge any funding sources for this review.

What the researchers found

  • The studies included in this review highlight how the complementary role of volunteers in palliative care offered in rural Australia has been overlooked.
  • Rural communities often face geographic and population characteristics which present challenges in accessing adequate health care. For example, healthcare models designed for urban communities are often practised in rural areas without any adaptations.
  • It was found that people in rural areas are often less likely to seek help, and that it can be difficult to recruit healthcare professionals to work in remote areas.


  • Despite these challenges, volunteers’ contribution appears promising to improve palliative-care practices in rural areas, particularly with regards to emotional and social support.
  • Further research is recommended to determine the optimal recruitment, selection, training and support processes offered to volunteers in the palliative-care system across Australia as the population continues to age.

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