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Disaster Management in Rural and Remote Primary Health Care: A Scoping Review

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 March 2021

Katie A. Willson*
Rural and Remote Health Discipline, College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
Gerard J. FitzGerald
School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove, Australia
David Lim
College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders University, Bedford Park, Australia Centre for Remote Health: Joanna Briggs Institute Affiliated Group, Flinders University, Alice Springs, Australia School of Health Sciences, Western Sydney University, Campbelltown, Australia Translational Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, Campbelltown, Australia
Correspondence: Katie Willson, MD Rural and Remote Health, College of Medicine and Public Health Flinders University, PO Box 2100 Adelaide, SA, 5001 E-mail:



This scoping review aims to map the roles of rural and remote primary health care professionals (PHCPs) during disasters.


Disasters can have catastrophic impacts on society and are broadly classified into natural events, man-made incidents, or a mixture of both. The PHCPs working in rural and remote communities face additional challenges when dealing with disasters and have significant roles during the Prevention, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery (PPRR) stages of disaster management.


A Johanna Briggs Institute (JBI) scoping review methodology was utilized, and the search was conducted over seven electronic databases according to a priori protocol.


Forty-one papers were included and sixty-one roles were identified across the four stages of disaster management. The majority of disasters described within the literature were natural events and pandemics. Before a disaster occurs, PHCPs can build individual resilience through education. As recognized and respected leaders within their community, PHCPs are invaluable in assisting with disaster preparedness through being involved in organizations’ planning policies and contributing to natural disaster and pandemic surveillance. Key roles during the response stage include accommodating patient surge, triage, maintaining the health of the remaining population, instituting infection control, and ensuring a team-based approach to mental health care during the disaster. In the aftermath and recovery stage, rural and remote PHCPs provide long-term follow up, assisting patients in accessing post-disaster support including delivery of mental health care.


Rural and remote PHCPs play significant roles within their community throughout the continuum of disaster management. As a consequence of their flexible scope of practice, PHCPs are well-placed to be involved during all stages of disaster, from building of community resilience and contributing to early alert of pandemics, to participating in the direct response when a disaster occurs and leading the way to recovery.

Special Report
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine

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