Why working with the healthcare system is key to reforming rural health

Providing healthcare to rural Americans is ripe for innovation. Compared to their urban counterparts, rural Americans have worse health outcomes: According to the CDC, they are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, accidental injury, COPD and stroke.

Meanwhile, they have to deal with longer travel times and less access to providers. More than 180 nationwide hospitals in the US have been closed since 2005 and 19 closed their doors in 2020 alone.

“It really became clear that the system that was developed for care delivery was developed for urban environments. And we had to rethink or redesign the system to be able to deliver adequate high-quality care in a different market. That’s why we have to address rural markets, ” dr. Jennifer Schneider, co-founder and CEO of newly launched hybrid provider Homeward, said during a panel discussion on ViVE.

Schneider, former president of chronic care management company Livongo, explained how Homeward will use a combination of personal care delivered via mobile vans and virtual services. The startup will expand the local health system and send patients back to outside healthcare providers if necessary.

“We see ourselves as an extension of the current ecosystem, not a competitor,” she said.

Digital mental health company Brave Health also works within the larger healthcare system, as most patients are referred to them by their insurers or other providers, said co-founder and CEO Anna Lindow.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health professionals are: overloaded with demand for care, and the US does not have enough providers to meet the need.

“We didn’t specifically want to say, ‘Okay, we definitely want to focus on the rural population,’ but it really happened organically, because that’s where health plans said, ‘Hey, I can’t find anything local’ for this person, for this member” Lindow said.

Digital is a big part of the entry equation for CVS Health, said chief information officer Roshan Navagamuwa. Although the retail giant has more than 1,500 stores in rural areas, there’s still a lot of geography that’s not covered, he explained.

“We’re looking at statistics, so about 85% of Americans live within 10 miles of a CFS. But if you’re in rural areas, that average doesn’t work. So that’s where we think virtual care is a big part. It’s really It’s important to have a care team available locally that we support through our networks, primary care networks and pharmacy networks,” said Navagamuwa.

Specialized care is another pain point for rural health care. A 2019 study published in health matters found that Medicare beneficiaries living in rural areas had higher avoidable hospitalizations and mortality compared to their urban counterparts, which was attributed to a lack of access to specialists.

While it’s important to give the patient more options, the access problem won’t necessarily solve the access problem, says Gil Addo, co-founder and CEO of the virtual specialty care company. RubiconMD. Giving resources to caregivers who have trusted relationships with patients in rural areas could be a more effective way.

“I don’t think you win by arming patients,” Addo said. “I don’t think that’s how you solve healthcare. I do think that you have to work within the existing infrastructure. … And so can we bring that access and those services to the patient, and not force them to [it] from?”