Rural health important issue for farming communities
July 8, 2011
Ranches typically don’t reside next to sprawling urban metropolises with quick access to Walmarts, hospitals and fancy restaurants. The seclusion and isolation of the cattle business can be both a blessing and a curse, and for farming families impacted with health problems, traveling to a health care facility can be time-consuming, stressful and harmful to the patient, the family and the ranch.
Bringing health care to rural communities was one of the key topics addressed in a panel discussion at the 2011 Governor’s Agriculture Development Summit on June 29, 2011 in Sioux Falls, SD at the Convention Center. Weighing in on the discussion was Dan Heineman, Sanford Health; Jay Weems, Avera Health; and Rebekah Cradduck, South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations.
“One of the tactics Avera uses is e-care through tele-health, streaming video from the office in Sioux Falls or Rapid City to see a patient in a small town,” explained Weems. “The issue has always been that the correspondence is delayed and communication was tough, but now you can see a physician quite easily through technology. We can take these specialists and drop them in on our small rural communities. It’s a game changer in health care when you have immediate access to a supportive physician offering to be a specialist in a local clinic. We know patients heal faster close to home with the support of their families close by and not having to travel great distances to get care.”
Heineman agreed on the importance of technology.
“Access to technology is very helpful in providing patient care to rural communities,” he said. “It’s not very efficient to move a limited specialist from a large area to a small area. It’s hours of travel time and waiting as the physician gets to the local facility, but it happens quite a lot. We can use tele-health and electronic data records to manage for health issues and identify pockets where these issues are located. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and these tools will help us to do that.”
Cradduck said local communities are responsible to make the push for these technology advancements in their local facilities.
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“You live and work in your communities, and you essentially define your communities,” she explained. “It’s incumbent upon you to know what’s going on with health care in your towns. It’s not just what you do, but it’s also what your network is. It’s not about size of facility, it’s what’s available.”
She used the metaphor of a three-legged stool to further explain her point: recruitment, retention and access.
“Recruitment on a national, state and local levels is very important, and each level has a responsibility to do better,” said Cradduck. “On a national level, we have training programs and graduate education. In states, policy focuses on that education and training, and if we don’t encourage and support our young people to stay in the state, research shows that if they leave South Dakota for medical school or residency, they are less likely to come back. On a local level, we need to match professionals to the area.
“The second leg of the stool is retention,” she continued. “This is mostly a local issue. Communities determine what type of care is available through their support of that local clinic and physician. States and national programs can help support that community in retaining these quality caregivers. Finally, the third leg of the stool is access and having health care available when you need it and what you need. You may want it all, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to support it and keep it viable in the local communities. Use the tools that have been brought in and have your local physician involved in your treatment. Get therapy and rehab locally and use these rural resources when possible.”
Weems also commented on health care reform.
“As we watch health care reform, you’re going to see people in rural communities be much more active about their own health,” he predicted. “We need to make it easier, so farming communities can come in and see the physician. One thing we are seeing in health care is that regulation hasn’t kept up with technology and is prohibiting our ability to serve rural America. As you go back home, please talk to people at the hospitals and request these technologies be added to your facilities. We need to be active and take ownership of these conversations. As soon as folks realize that they don’t have to go to the big city to get the great quality care because they have the support of the local communities, then these smaller hospitals will be able to continue to grow and serve farming families.”
Health care is an important issue to address in rural communities, and with the advancement of technology in small clinics, higher quality of access will soon be readily available to farm families, if they take ownership of the conversation and support their local caregivers.