Study reveals grey nomads with diabetes need to be more prepared before hitting the road

A Flinders University study has highlighted the urgent need for better preparation among grey nomads with diabetes to ease the burden on rural pharmacists and enhance health care accessibility across remote areas.

A new study from Flinders University has revealed that older Australians with diabetes who enjoy caravan holidays must better prepare for their travels to avoid overburdening regional pharmacists. The research, spearheaded by Dr Anita De Bellis from Flinders’ College of Nursing and Health Sciences, focuses on the experiences of rural and remote pharmacists who serve these travellers, commonly referred to as grey nomads.

According to the findings, the limited and sometimes delayed availability of health services in remote areas often forces pharmacists to step in and provide essential care. The study details various challenges faced by these pharmacists, including the frequent dispensing of medications that travellers had accidentally left behind and the need to update medical supplies for monitoring blood glucose levels. Dr De Bellis highlighted that many grey nomads arrive with expired prescriptions or find that necessary supplies are not readily available due to the remoteness of their locations.

The research further indicates that there is a disparity in the prepared and unprepared travellers. “The pharmacists reported that while some travellers were well organised, many assumed that any regional pharmacy would be well-equipped and capable of offering medical advice on managing their diabetes—a conversation they should ideally have with their general practitioner,” Dr De Bellis explained.

With the current strain on rural health systems, the study suggests several improvements to support both healthcare professionals and travelling patients. Dr De Bellis recommends ongoing professional development for pharmacists focusing on diabetes management and argues for appropriate compensation for pharmacists who provide specialised care to this group. This recognises the extra demands placed on their services and the specialist expertise they are required to offer.

The integration of digital health tools such as My Health Record and expanded telehealth services could enhance the continuity of care for grey nomads. This would ensure travellers have access to their health records and professional medical advice, irrespective of their location. Another proposed solution is the creation of comprehensive pre-travel checklists, which could aid grey nomads in better preparing for their journeys, potentially reducing the pressure on limited rural healthcare resources.

Dr De Bellis finished by saying that with Australia’s ageing population expected to increase, so too will the number of grey nomads. “Enhanced support for pharmacists and improved resources for travellers to better prepare and manage their conditions are essential. These measures are crucial for sustaining health services in regional and remote communities,” she said.

The findings of this investigation are detailed in the paper titled ‘Rural and remote pharmacists’ perspectives of grey nomads with diabetes travelling in Australia,’ published in the Australian Journal of Rural Health. The research received funding from the Australian Diabetes Educators Association through the Australian Diabetes Research Fund.

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