History of the Rural Health Education Foundation

The Foundation was originally established in 1992 after consultation with rural GP stakeholders, to test the popularity of ‘talkback television’ as a model to address health needs. The concept of bringing education and information to the rural doctor, rather than the rural doctor to the traditional centres of education in large towns and cities, has remained a constant and guiding principle although doctors a no longer our sole focus.

The Foundation began as a pilot project in 1992 with seven satellite receiving sites in NSW funded and organised by the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme.

The pilot showed much promise and in 1995, the Rural Health Education Foundation became an independent organisation and was provided a grant of $1 million from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing for a major expansion of the Foundation’s satellite network to 300 sites. 

These sites were spread nationally in New South Wales (60 sites), Queensland (31), South Australia (30), Tasmania (20), Victoria (61), Northern Territory (16), and Western Australia (82).

And thus the Foundation was truly established.

Founding Members of the Foundation included the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) and the “Rural Divisions Subcommittee” of the Australian Divisions of General Practice.  A Board of Directors serving on a voluntary basis was also established with Dr David Rosenthal as Chair.

Broadcast time was purchased on the Optus satellite network (Aurora and Westlink WA & QLD Health) for live broadcasts with filming taking place at the Centre for Learning and Innovation Strathfield.

As a non-profit organisation the Foundation offered it education programs free to those that could access the satellite network. The Foundation set about expanding the network to the isolated and very remote areas of Australia.  In 2006 the Foundation had established their 600th site at Wuchopperen Health Service in Cairns. The network continued to grow to more than 670 sites by 2012.

The expansion of the network and the production of educational television programs was possible through Federal and Sate government funding as well as through corporate organisations, philanthropic trusts & foundations and individual donations.

Since its inception the Foundation has produced more than 350 programs of which 150 remain current.

In May 2012 the Rural Health Channel was established as the first free-to-air health television channel on the VAST service.  This was a significant milestone in the history of the Foundation and Australia as the general public and households now have access to the health education offered by the Foundation.



- Pilot project started by Merck Sharp & Dohme (Australia) Pty Ltd

Late 1995

- Independent, non-profit organisation formally established


- Streaming of programs on website
- Accreditation Provider with RACGP


- Establishment of a second office in Sydney


- Deductable Gift Recipient Status granted

August 2005

- Filming in communities and the production of half hour documentary programs suitable for community use

March 2006

- Podcasts (audio versions of programs) added to website


- Began broadcasting selected programs on SBS Television, National Indigenous Television and Aurora Television – substantially expanding the audience
- Free distribution of DVD copies of selected programs to health professionals and communities


- Production and distribution of Learning Guides to accompany many programs


- Developed and implemented a strategy for Indigenous programming to guide the Foundation’s work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

June 2008

- Live simultaneous webcasts of selected programs


- Awarded international health and medical media award (“Freddie”) for Recovery from Trauma: What Works – a consumer program on PTSD
- Distributing DVD copies of selected programs to health professionals and communities

February 2009 

- External evaluation conducted of the Foundation which assessed the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of the Foundation programs and services over the previous four years
- Appointed as a Member of National Rural Health Alliance


- First Online Learning Module developed and delivered

April 2010

- Patron, Dr Tom Calma appointed

May 2012

- Rural Health Channel established on the VAST system

June 2012

- Captioning of all videos available online


- Ongoing bi-monthly series of programs Be Strong series

August 2013

- Live captioning

September 2013

- Move to IPS studios from Centre for Learning Innovation