On September 3, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the Rural Action Plan, the first HHS-wide assessment of rural healthcare efforts in over 18 years.
The action plan provides a roadmap to strengthen departmental coordination to better serve the approximately 57 million people who live in rural areas and make up between 15 and 20 percent of the population in the U.S.
Rural communities face a number of health challenges including higher incidence of chronic conditions, closure of rural hospitals and the financial risk faced by those that try to stay open, high infant mortality, difficulty recruiting clinicians, and less access to specialty care.
The plan lays out a four-point strategy to transform rural health and human services:
- build a sustainable health and human services model for rural communities by empowering rural providers to transform service delivery on a broad scale
- leverage technology and innovation to deliver quality care and services to rural communities more efficiently and cost-effectively
- focus on preventing disease and mortality by developing rural-specific efforts to improve health outcomes
- increase rural access to care by eliminating regulatory burdens that limit the availability of needed clinical professionals
This plan builds on HHS efforts already underway, and resources released, to provide a framework to enhance future work that includes:
- addressing social determinants of health for rural older adults and people with disabilities
- supporting research on how to improve screening for the physical and mental illnesses that disproportionately affect rural residents
- developing toolkits to assist integration efforts between community health centers, rural hospitals, and tribes