Developing Solutions to Peel Away the Multi-Layer Barriers to Rural Health

October 29th, 2021 | Viewpoint

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Health care service use in rural New England is affected by distance and demographic, economic, and structural characteristics that hinder access and challenge quality and sustainability. Working individually with several rural communities across the country, JSI is connecting specialists, providing trainings on telehealth, and using information in medical claims data to provide a detailed view of access to medical, dental, and mental health services.

Mapping Primary Care Access Using All-Payer Claims Data Analysis

By analyzing the geographic patterns of people making primary care visits, we are able to visualize the flow of care-seeking behavior, measure drive times to quantify access barriers, and identify pockets of need that might otherwise be overlooked. The detailed maps can differentiate between the barriers for outlying rural communities and the larger cities that they feed into, compare access between patients with different types of insurance, specific diseases, and more. States use this information to better plan service provision by identifying underlying barriers and prioritizing unmet needs.

Serving Rural Patients with Telehealth

While access to high-quality health care is of utmost importance, rural areas encounter barriers including consistent provider shortages, hospital closures, and lack of proximity to services. Telehealth allows facilities serving rural areas to expand services, integrate primary care with sub-specialty services, and improve care management.

JSI is one of nine organizations taking part in HRSA’s Telehealth Technology-Enabled Learning Program, which aims to connect specialists with primary care providers who treat patients with complex conditions in rural and underserved areas across New England. The Treating Addiction in Rural Areas ECHO part of our project ECHO portfolio, will aim to increase organizational and staff knowledge, skills, and confidence to deliver substance use and behavioral health treatment and recovery support services.

Through the Health Information Technology, Evaluation, and Quality Center, JSI developed a resource describing challenges to providing telehealth services to rural communities and short- and long-term strategies to overcome them. These range from accessing broadband through public Wi-Fi, making the most of the limited broadband patients may have, and building partnerships between rural health care providers, Medicaid officials, and private insurance representatives.

Rural Resiliency: Innovation and the Journey Forward

JSI has a long history of fostering collaborative public health-oriented solutions in rural areas and is a champion sponsor of the 2021 New England Rural Health Conference, focused on Rural Resiliency: Innovation and the Journey Forward. This conference is always a great way to connect with rural health care professionals, educators, providers, students, and community leaders in the region to share work that improves the health of rural communities and continue learning from each other.

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