The big mHealth opportunity: Rural Communities

A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that we’re a rural based business. I think it helps a great deal but I find a lot of people aren’t convinced and over the years it’s been suggested that we move to a business area in Dublin or London. But to me I think it’s worth it because the disruptive opportunity to collapse time and space is so much more obvious to those who are based in rural communities.

Whilst it’s easy to see the advantages I sense that in urban areas where there’s a mail box on every corner offering next day (before 9am) delivery on anything you can put into it along with a wide variety of alternative means to communicate (and I count good roads, rail & bus networks, taxis, couriers etc amongst these) more often than not this actually discourages the move to digital communication tools, in effect reducing the equity in mobile communications.

The way I see it if you can appreciate and serve the needs of the patients on the left (rural living) you’re going to be very well placed to delight patients on the right.

I find this analogous to the way that multiple button smartphones were never going to inspire the innovation in mobile user experience that we’ve seen since mobile developers were lumped with a much more limited array of hardware buttons:

I think it’s for this type of reason that researchers at the likes of Reading University feel it’s sensible to publish a report stating that community healthcare workers “could” get more “patient contact time” and “save an average of ten miles per day per clinician” if they were to switch to “mobile computing solutions” because “there would be no need to drive to the office to collect daily schedules”. In 2011 is a printed daily schedule really worth a 10 mile round trip? In the rural community how long do you think they’d sustain 60+ mile trips before they searched for a solution?

I think it’s also a similar story with patients who are physically disabled or who are living alone and remote. It naturally tends to reduce your tolerance for needless navigation and increases your affinity to and acceptance of modern 21st century solutions.

So it’s great to see this 73 page report on Rural Health Care Coverage, Access and Quality Challenges thats been produced by the UnitedHealth Group’s Center for Health Reform & Modernization. Some of the key numbers are great reminders of the massive mHealth opportunity in rural communities:

> As the number of rural physicians continues to lag the report projects an increase of around 5 million newly insured rural residents by 2019 will result from the planned 2014 coverage expansions of Medicare and Medicaid.

> In rural areas the quality of care is rated lower by both physicians and consumers than their counterparts in urban and suburban markets.

> In rural areas only 49% of residents rate their local health care services as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’, compared to 63% of urban and suburban residents.

> Compared to urban and suburban residents, rural residents are twice as likely to rate their local health care services as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’.

> Rural Americans experience more chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease than urban and suburban residents, have greater difficulties accessing high-quality care, and from 2014 millions more of them will likely participate in Medicaid and government-subsidized insurance

> More than half of rural primary care doctors report that patients they refer to specialty care have to travel an average of about 60 miles.

> Per head of population there are rural Americans have 38% less primary care physicians than urban/suburban Americans and as many as 5 million live in “shortage areas” defined by the federal government as counties with less than 33 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents.

About David Doherty
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