Due mainly to increasing difficulties in recruiting and retaining health professionals to work in remote and peripheral areas of Scotland, there is discussion of the need to implement new models of primary health care provision. However, innovative service models may imply a reduction in the number of health professionals who live and work in remote communities. Currently decisions about remodelling service provision are being taken by National Health Service stakeholders, apparently with little consideration of the wider social and economic impacts of change. This paper aims to argue that health professionals contribute to the fabric of rural life in a number of ways and that decisions about health service redesign need to take this into account. As well as fulfilling a wide health and social care role for patients, the authors seek to show that health professionals are important to the social sustainability of rural communities as, due to their unique position, they are often at the heart of networks within and between communities. The wider economic contribution of health services in remote communities is important, but often underplayed. The authors propose that theories of capital, principally the concept of social capital, could help in investigating the wider contribution of health professionals to their local communities. Ultimately, it is proposed that health services, as embodied in nurses, doctors and others, could be highly important to the ongoing livelihood and social infrastructure of fragile remote communities. Since this area is poorly understood, there is a need for prospective primary research and evaluation of service redesign initiatives.