Long ago, I spent some time working for a U.S. senator, and I was tasked with focusing on what policy adjustments could positively impact rural health (I’m from Nevada, a decidedly rural state). While some of those policy suggestions eventually became law (increased rural residency slots, improvements in telehealth accessibility, rural loan repayment models), some are still being chased (broadband access, meaningful financial incentives for health systems, a solution to pharmacy and primary care deserts).
So perhaps it is no surprise that rural health status still lags dramatically behind urban areas. Some 65 million Americans live in rural environments, with worse infant mortality, long drives to primary care offices, and rates of disease that tell a tale of two Americas.
In the time I have spent in small towns or working in rural hospitals, it has become obvious that these communities desperately crave better health.
“I’m just so glad Dr. ______ hasn’t retired yet, or I’d have to drive into the city.”
“I’d go to the doctor, but I have to feed the horses, and I don’t have time to go all the way there.”
And my personal favorite: “Doc, I’d rather have a cane than a walker… I can’t hit the rattlesnakes with a walker.” (He had a point.)
I’ve seen a lot of investment in digital health lately, but most of it focused on the worried well or those in urban areas. I understand why. But isn’t it time to start thinking beyond driving shareholder value? What if we started really thinking about customer value? And let’s include those that are non-customers today. Do they opt out by choice or circumstance? I’m willing to bet it’s more the latter.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do we include everyone in our health system? We hear about meeting customers where they are (I say it myself), what if we meant it?
This piece was written by Patrick Woodard, MD, Chief Digital Officer at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.