Rural vs Urban Mobile Integrated Healthcare: What are the Different Challenges?

The US population will continue to grow, and more people in rural environments will need access to healthcare. This opens the discussion of rural vs urban mobile integrated healthcare. How do they differ? How will each side overcome the unique challenges they face?

Rural residents often have a greater need for primary care and generally don’t have the same resources as larger areas. Conversely, urban MIH programs may struggle to find support, or there may be a perception of competition among other providers.

This article seeks to unpack the nuances of urban and rural mobile integrated healthcare. We’ll discuss several challenges facing rural and urban MIH and suggest how both can succeed.

What are the Challenges for a Rural Mobile Integrated Healthcare-Community Paramedic Program?

We’ll begin with rural mobile integrated healthcare. Many communities now see the benefits of mobile integrated health, particularly for residents who live many miles from healthcare facilities. The MIH team can go directly to these patients and establish a line of communication between the patient and their physician, ensuring that no one is left without care.

While this sounds great, these good things don’t come without struggle.

Here are the challenges for rural mobile integrated healthcare:

  • Fewer resources to draw upon
  • Longer distances to travel
  • Primary care is more difficult
  • Communication is more challenging (and more important)

Now, let’s go over these points in detail.

Rural MIH-CP Programs have Less Access to Resources

Rural America has fewer resources available to their public safety and healthcare teams. This presents problems for rural MIH-CP programs trying to build partnerships. While partnerships are vital to community paramedicine and mobile integrated healthcare, you can’t partner with someone who isn’t there.

While urban areas often have organizations dedicated to mental healthcare, drug rehabilitation, or homelessness, rural communities are frequently left without these resources. Many regions might not even have enough primary care physicians.

This lack of access to resources can make it difficult for small areas to get their mobile integrated health programs off the ground.

How to overcome the challenge: First, consider alternative partnerships. Sometimes, local schools, churches, or community centers are interested in partnering with a program that will benefit the area.

Second, look into grants for your program. You may even be able to find grants that are specific to rural health.

Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to health centers outside your immediate areas. Due to the remote nature of MIH, you might be able to partner with physicians and health centers who are hours away – that’s the power of the internet, video calls, and good documentation platforms.

Rural MIH Programs must Traverse Greater Distances

The amount of travel involved in mobile integrated healthcare may limit the ability to reach patients in a rural environment. If your community paramedics drive an hour each way to visit a patient, this can limit the time they can spend with each patient (or the number of patients they can see in a day).

How to overcome the challenge: For this program, it might be worth considering a smaller vehicle. It might not be feasible to take a large ambulance across the countryside. Still, a smaller vehicle could be used, mainly when providers make scheduled calls to care for chronic diseases.

Another thing you can do is map out the patient’s address and then set up the visits in a logistically efficient manner. Thinking like a UPS driver is helpful. Instead of zigzagging vehicles everywhere, see if you can plan a natural route for your scheduled MIH home calls. Route4me is a popular route-planning software. 

Primary Care Is a Greater Need for Rural Residents

As the population increases, more people will live in rural areas. As it is, many rural residents don’t have easy access to primary care. Part of the problem is a shortage of physicians. While there’s not much mobile integrated healthcare can do to increase the number of medical doctors, there are ways MIH programs can improve the patient’s connection with the primary care physicians available.

As it happens, one of the problems MIH-CP is trying to solve is the lack of primary care providers. Let’s talk about how to overcome this shortage of primary care.

How to overcome the challenge: Mobile integrated healthcare is a direct response to the lack of primary care. To overcome these issues, MIH organizations should seek to make as many connections in healthcare as is reasonable – they should also consider expanding the definition of “primary care.” What does this mean?

In some areas, organizations such as the Crawfordsville IN MIH-CP program will reach out to expectant mothers or provide assessments to newborns. Not only that, but these programs will also help deliver vaccines to rural residents. By expanding the scope of MIH-CP, you increase the potential to fill the gap in primary care for rural residents.

Communication is More Difficult in a Rural Setting

Finally, communication can be more difficult in a rural environment. This can come down to several factors. First, something as simple as cell service – not all rural areas have good coverage, making it difficult for rapid communication.

Second, rural areas are less likely to interact with their community partners face-to-face. This lack of in-person encounters can lead to confusing communication, hijacking the effectiveness of a program.

Thankfully, there are some things you can do.

How to overcome the challenge: First, having regular stakeholder meetings is essential. Even if it’s just a single person who acts as a liaison between the MIH program and its partners, this connection can help keep partners engaged.

Second, you can’t always control a lack of technical communication abilities (such as poor cellular service). However, optimizing the communication tools you can control is even more critical.

Consider looking into Julota’s communication platforms for mobile integrated healthcare. Their safe, interoperable software can help ensure you and your partners stay in sync – even in a rural environment.

All right, now let’s look at some of the unique challenges of urban MIH-CP.

What are the Challenges Facing Urban Mobile Integrated Healthcare?

We’ve talked about some of the challenges for rural MIH teams. Now, let’s flip everything around and discuss the challenges to urban providers. In many cases, an MIH-CP program will operate in both rural and urban settings, so it’s helpful to empathize with both systems.

Several challenges facing urban mobile integrated healthcare:

  • It’s harder to stand out
  • Some organizations might perceive competition

Below, we’ll uncover the nuances of each of these points.

It’s Harder for MIH to Stand Out in an Urban Environment

While there may be too few resources and organizations in rural environments, there may be “too many” resources in an urban environment. What do we mean? Simply put, many health clinics and community organizations will already have a lot of potential partners clamoring for their time.

You may get lost in the noise if you’re not precise about how you approach potential partners (or customers).

How to overcome the challenge: It’s essential to come prepared when approaching community leaders or potential partners. If potential partners think you’re just throwing ideas out there, they probably won’t take the time to listen.

Use suitable data collection tools and do your homework. Try to show people the vision and demonstrate where the needs are.

Some Organizations Might Perceive Competition from Mobile Integrated Healthcare

While competing with other organizations is not the point of MIH-CP, this won’t stop some organizations from seeing it that way.

Mobile integrated healthcare is more of an idea than a specific business model. MIH isn’t targeting one set of people in hopes of making a profit. As a community provider, it’s your job to be open and honest with potential “competitors.”

How to overcome the challenge: Reach out to organizations that have some overlap with the care you’re looking to provide. Try to have a good conversation with them and see if there’s a way you could partner with them.

Second, don’t overlook a needs assessment. Ideally, your program should be targeting an area of genuine need. If you’re in direct competition with someone, perhaps it’s time to question if your program’s initiative should be the first on the list.

To learn more about provider interactions, see our guide comparing the community paramedic to the home health nurse.

Conclusion: Rural vs Urban Mobile Integrated Healthcare

Rural and urban health programs face many challenges – lack of staffing, low funding, etc. However, pitting rural vs urban mobile integrated healthcare reveals that both sides face unique challenges. Urban mobile integrated health programs will have to work hard to build respect. Rural MIH programs will have to work hard to build connections.

There is evidence that rural MIH programs work. For more rural community paramedic programs to thrive, they must overcome technological deficits, logistical challenges, and difficulty maintaining reliable communication.

Contact Julota to discover how interoperable documentation software can improve communication for rural and urban MIH-CP programs.