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The future of rural health care is bright

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

by Mitchell Clark

Published on 11/21/2019

Rural communities are wonderful places to live and work, and that’s why nearly 62 million people – about one in five Americans – call these areas home. National Rural Health Day, which is the third Thursday of every November, is our opportunity to honor the selfless, community-minded spirit of rural America, and, of course, to celebrate the health care innovation that’s happening outside of the country’s urban cores.

Across the United States, national and local organizations are celebrating this day in multiple ways. At the National Rural Health Association, we’re celebrating the bright future that’s ahead for health care in rural America.

We often find ourselves lamenting the challenges of rural health care ─ lack of providers, declining life expectancy for residents and rising hospital closures (119 have closed since 2010 and another 430 – or about 21% of our nation’s rural hospitals – are at risk of closing). While these issues and others are realities that we must address, it’s important to make sure we’re communicating a complete view of what’s happening in rural towns. We also need to share the stories of innovation, collaboration and community renewal. Rural America is worth fighting for, and it’s a place of limitless opportunity.

In a September New York Times op-ed, “Something Special Is Happening in Rural America,” author Sarah Smarsh argues that there’s a national migration back to rural America as people seek less bustling spaces. When it comes to rural health care, realizing the bright future that Sarah writes about means re-imagining what rural health is now, and what it can be. As we work to transition from fee-for-service to value-based care, we must develop new connected health care delivery models that better reflect the needs of the communities they serve. We also need new alternative payment methods that promote the extension of health care beyond the four walls of the hospital. These types of transformations are crucial to building a successful rural health culture.

This future of rural health is quickly approaching. There are proposals in Congress to establish these new approaches to care. Federal efforts are also underway to expand broadband access that will make the latest health care technology more accessible. Across the country, many rural hospitals are part of Accountable Care Organizations, and in states like Pennsylvania and Maryland, hospitals are engaged in “global budgeting” payment models that may serve as a blueprint toward a new strategy for rural health.

Rural America is ever-changing, and we welcome that change on National Rural Health Day and beyond. The future for rural America is a network of vibrant communities that are embracing new technology, innovation and a culture of health and wellness. Something special is indeed happening and we celebrate that exciting future.

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