Purpose: Rural communities have unique economic and social structures, different disease burdens, and a more patchworked healthcare delivery system compared to urban counterparts. Yet research into addressing social determinants of health has focused on larger, urban, integrated health systems. Our study sought to understand capacities, facilitators, and barriers related to addressing social health needs across a collaborative of independent provider organizations in rural Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin. Methods: We conducted qualitative, semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of 37 key informants from collaborative members including 4 stand-alone critical access hospitals, 3 critical access hospitals affiliated with primary care, 1 multi-clinic system, and 1 integrated regional health system. Findings: Barriers were abundant and occurred at the organizational, community and policy levels. Rural providers described a lack of financial, labor, Internet, and community-based social services resources, a limited capacity to partner with other organizations, and workflows that were less than optimal for addressing SDOH. State Medicaid and other payer policies posed challenges that made it more difficult to use available resources, as did misaligned incentives between partners. While specific payer programs and organizational innovations helped facilitate their work, nothing was systemic. Relationships within the collaborative that allowed sharing of innovations and information were helpful, as was the role leadership played in promoting value-based care. Conclusions: Policy change is needed to support rural providers in this work. Collaboration among rural health systems should be fostered to develop common protocols, promote value-based care, and offer economies of scale to leverage value-based payment. States can help align incentives and performance metrics across rural health care entities, engage payers in promoting value-based care, and bolster social service capacity.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Wilderness Health for their in-kind support of this work.
© 2021, The Author(s).
- Intersectoral collaboration
- Rural Health services
- Social determinants of Health