Driving rural precision medicine progress
Alex T. Olson
For years, rural communities have faced significant health challenges. Individuals living in rural America are 38.8 percent more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease, 8.6 percent more likely to suffer from diabetes, and 5.5 percent more likely to suffer from obesity compared to those living in urban centers.
The measurable health disparities rural communities face are exacerbated by a troubling workforce situation. The patient-to-primary care physician ratio in rural areas is only 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 53.3 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas.
These are just some of the issues NRHA seeks to combat every day. We are motivated to search for new ways to support our members and improve the health of rural communities.
That’s why in 2018 NRHA joined the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program as an official partner organization. We’re working hard to engage our members, enhance the way we conduct medical research and develop treatment programs to better meet the needs of rural communities across the country.
By joining the All of Us program, NRHA became one of many diverse partner organizations working together to spread awareness and reach diverse populations that have been historically underrepresented in medical research, including rural Americans.
All of Us is a national effort that seeks to gather the health data of one million or more individuals living in the United States to accelerate medical research and improve community health. Specifically, the program will create a research database to facilitate treatment programs based on precision medicine, which aims to improve health outcomes through a more well-rounded diagnosis and treatment process. Precision medicine considers not only a patient's health information but also their genetic makeup, socioeconomic status, where they live and what they do for a living.
The program’s focus on engagement with historically underrepresented communities will yield research and new medical treatments that will benefit rural Americans. As an organization devoted to the health and well-being of rural families across the country, NRHA is excited by the change this research will drive.
To move our health care system away from a one-size-fits-all approach to medical research, we must do our part to make sure All of Us is a success. As an official partner organization, NRHA hit the ground running in 2018, and we have a lot planned for 2019.
Important work we’ve already done
Since All of Us launched in May 2018, rural health associations from across the country have mobilized to spread the word.
In September, the Florida Rural Health Association hosted two events with the All of Us journey exhibit and the All of Us mobile education and enrollment center. These exhibits travel the country to spread awareness of the program and provide an opportunity to enroll, with each featuring hands-on activities that allow visitors to better understand precision medicine and the importance of biomedical research. The education and enrollment center also allows visitors to give their physical measurements and blood and urine samples after they’ve enrolled.
In October and November, attendees at rural health conferences in Maryland, Illinois, Virginia and Tennessee learned more about how to get their communities involved in the program. NRHA CEO Alan Morgan spoke at each of the conferences and highlighted the opportunity rural communities have to make a lasting positive impact by participating in All of Us.
Each of these activities has helped drive engagement and spread awareness, but they merely serve as a starting point. NRHA and our members are committed to finding new and innovative ways to engage our communities and drive participation in the program.
NRHA looks forward to continuing our work with All of Us in 2019, which promises to be a year of growth and achievement for rural communities.
In early February, NRHA will hold its 30th Rural Health Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., where we’ll advocate in person for legislative decisions that benefit rural Americans and ensure Congress makes decisions with rural in mind. Another major part of that conversation will focus on federal initiatives like All of Us that can drive real change and impact future generations. We look forward to having meaningful conversations on how we can continue to break down health barriers for rural populations.
Throughout the year, NRHA’s community health worker training network will engage physicians, dentists and doctors so they can bring information on the All of Us program back to their hometowns.
To be truly successful, the All of Us program needs individuals from every subset of every community to get involved. With more rural participation, we can arm medical professionals with the necessary data to develop treatments tailored to rural America, and we can begin to combat the health disparities that rural populations face on a daily basis.
Above all, we need your help. NRHA is asking you to get involved by participating in the All of Us Research Program and encouraging your peers to do the same. We have an opportunity to take part in a historic effort that will transform rural health care for decades to come.
Learn more about All of Us and sign up here.
NRHA partnered with the National Institutes of Health to produce the above piece for publication within the Association’s Rural Health Voices blog