Each year on the third Thursday of November, we join with clients, partners, and other stakeholders in celebrating National Rural Health Day. We honor the many accomplishments of rural health facilities and hope to raise awareness about the unique healthcare needs of the 62 million Americans living in rural and frontier areas. Health professionals and organizations in rural America are dedicated to delivering the highest quality care to underserved Americans. Here are some of the ways they’re leading the way on the national healthcare scene:
- Personalized, comprehensive care: Healthcare professionals in rural America focus on building personal relationships with patients and families, and they tend to take a holistic, patient-centered approach. Rural doctors often know and interact with their patients outside of the clinic, creating an emotional connection that can enhance their ability to provide comprehensive care. As one small-town doctor observed, “We know what is important to them; we notice things about patients on the street that have an impact on their care. We see patients in the context of their overall social system, and we know a lot about what their stressors are.”
- Economic contribution: There are approximately 1,330 Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) situated in rural areas throughout the United States. These hospitals provide essential healthcare and serve as the economic backbone of their respective communities, bringing an average of 204 jobs to the area’s market. And every dollar spent on rural hospitals generates approximately $2.20 for the local economy.
Care for the underserved: Of the 4,100 certified Rural Health Clinics (RHCs), 95% accept new Medicaid patients. In rural areas, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) focus on services for underserved rural populations, and VHA community-based outreach clinics work to improve the health of 40% of the nation’s veterans.
Innovation and connection: When it comes to healthcare, rural doesn’t necessarily mean “remote.” Rural health professionals often take advantage of growing telehealth and electronic health records initiatives to coordinate care and stay connected with one another and with urban tertiary care centers.
Model programs: Healthcare systems throughout the United States are using new models for health workers, community paramedics, and oral health professionals that were incubated in rural America.
Emergency services: Rural patients spend an average of 53 fewer minutes in the ER than urban patients do. Emergency medical services are mostly volunteer-dependent, but they are vital in rural America, where 20 percent of the nation’s population lives and nearly 60 percent of all trauma deaths occur.
Despite the promising indicators of positive momentum, rural health facilities face many challenges in today’s ever-changing healthcare environment. The needs of rural providers are as unique as the communities in which they live—and we cannot address those needs using a generic, one-size-fits-all approach. Programs and policies must be flexible enough to allow rural community leaders to identify and meet the distinctive needs of the communities they serve.
Our goal in working with diverse rural communities is to assist them in keeping care local and providing high quality, affordable healthcare through their hospitals and physician networks. In that spirit, we invite you to join us in a salute to the hardworking men and women in our nation’s rural health system.
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