Health

6 Ways Public Health Leaders Can Help Improve Health Care in Rural Areas

Health Care in Rural Areas

It’s no secret that rural America struggles with healthcare. Hospitals are understaffed. Resources are scarce. Public health is poor, and—

Are you describing rural America, or just…America?

Believe it or not, agricultural areas struggle even more than the rest of the country. In this article, we take a look at how a few key changes could positively impact the way people in rural areas access their healthcare. 

Data Implementation

Rural healthcare systems can use data to figure out what the most pressing issues in their area are. For example, a look at the numbers might reveal that 80% of people in the region are overweight or obese. If that sounds absurdly high to you, think again. The national average hovers at around 70%. 

Using that data, they can expand public outreach, and also focus their attention on cardiovascular care. 

Data can also be used to predict viral surges, perform administrative duties, and generally improve patient outcomes. 

Telehealth

Telehealth provides digital solutions for people’s healthcare needs. In the past, you had to go to the doctor’s office for pretty much any medical-related question. Issues big and small meant taking two hours out of your day to drive to the hospital, wait in a room filled with old magazines, see the doctor for six minutes, and then go home. 

In an age where efficiency is king, this process doesn’t really cut the mustard anymore. 

How exactly does one cut the mustard?

With telehealth applications. See, all that waiting around isn’t just bad for the patient. It’s also a huge drag on the healthcare system. Doctors can only see so many people a day. The more bogged down they get by minor complaints, the less time they have for more important work. 

Telehealth technology allows patients to ask small questions, and even have brief consultations from their smart devices. They get quality healthcare without burning through their whole day, and the hospital gets more time to spend on tougher cases. 

Mobile Health Clinics

Mobile health clinics are basically doctors’ offices on wheels. They tend to feature highly flexible configurations, allowing the physician on board to optimize the space as they see fit. These vehicles are currently being used all across the country to connect patients who suffer from mobility issues with high-quality care. 

These resources are particularly vital in rural areas, where one hospital may service an enormous geographical region. Public transportation may not be nearly as robust in agricultural areas as it is in the cities, making mobile health clinics a vital lifeline for people who can’t otherwise access healthcare. 

Public Outreach

Rural areas tend to be less healthy than their urban counterparts. This extends to everything from weight to general life expectancy. During the height of the pandemic, rural areas overwhelmingly led the country in terms of vaccine hesitancy. 

While some of these factors owe to the fragile healthcare infrastructure in agricultural America, poor public outreach may also be to blame. Good health is as much a matter of culture as it is a product of personal choice. Healthcare networks can help improve the general health of the people they serve with educational outreach practices that can boost overall lifestyle choices. 

Keep in mind that even the very best healthcare systems are only serving individuals for a very small fraction of their lives. A person may spend twenty minutes a year in the doctor’s office. The rest of the year, they are completely on their own when it comes to making health decisions. 

Wearables

Wearable healthcare devices are a good way to bridge the gap between doctor visits. As mentioned in the last heading, the average person does not have their health evaluated very often. Even if they try to do the right things, it is easy for problems to accumulate in-between visits. 

Wearable health devices allow their wearers to get constant access to real-time data. Even something as simple as a Fitbit will give you information on how active you are, what your resting heart rate is, your active rate. Your sleeping heart rate.

These are key data points that can be used to make important healthcare determinations. 

There is a logistical challenge with dispersing wearable devices to the general public. They cost money and are generally considered luxury items. However, certain internet-infused devices may be covered by insurance. This includes everything from Bluetooth-powered heart monitors to glucose monitors. 

Employee Incentivization

Healthcare in general has suffered from a significant personnel shortage over the last several years. While people are quick to blame Covid, the truth isn’t quite so simple. Anyone willing to do a deep dive into the literature will quickly find that experts have actually been warning about the current nursing shortage since well before the pandemic took its toll.

How did they see it coming? For years, there have been more nurses leaving than coming in. Obviously, that’s an unsustainable ratio, and we are now seeing the ill effects of it. 

It would take a few (hundred) thousand words to give a just account of what it might take for nursing reform. However, there are two things to keep in mind in the context of rural healthcare:

  • Rural areas are uniquely disadvantaged when it comes to staffing their hospitals. The reason is pretty straightforward. People tend to work near the place they grew up. Rural areas tend to be geographically immense but small in population. That means that they naturally have fewer potential nurses to choose from. 
  • Staffing shortages beget staffing shortages. In other words, the longer a hospital goes short staffed, the worse the problem will become. High turnover rates put a lot of extra stress on existing staff. If this goes on for long enough, they will eventually decide to leave. 

Hospitals everywhere need to get better at incentivizing people to come work for them. However, this is especially true in rural areas, where it can be hard to find qualified employees even during the best of times.

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