White House Council Aims to Boost Access to Rural Health

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, June 15, 2011

Nearly one in five Americans (16%) lives in rural areas, and thanks to the newly formed White House Rural Council, rural healthcare will be getting some much-needed federal attention. The council aims to better coordinate federal programs and maximize investments in rural communities.

The council's work, outlined in an executive order will be spread across executive departments, agencies, and offices to develop policy recommendations and coordinate the Obama administration's engagement with rural communities. It's headed by the Secretary of Agriculture, and its members include the heads of other departments, including HHS.

Among the council's priorities is improving access to and quality of healthcare, and the National Rural Health Association applauded its creation, saying on its blog that it's "pleased rural health is priority."

"We are delighted with the creation of the White House Rural Council," Alan Morgan, the National Rural Health Association's CEO said in an e-mail to HealthLeaders Media. "This is something we have supported in the past as a means to better coordinate rural issues across sector within the federal government. However, for this new council to be successful, it will need to place health and healthcare front and center within its discussions."

The council will also focus on job creation and economic development by increasing the flow of capital to rural areas, promoting innovation, and expanding digital and physical networks, the executive order said. In the healthcare arena, this translates to expanding health technology systems.

"A coordinated approach to expanding rural health information technology within the federal government is essential, and it must be a priority moving forward," Morgan said.

While the field of telehealth is still emerging, and there's anecdotal evidence of its benefits there haven't been a lot of long-term studies to quantify it.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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