First in a Series: Necessity is the Mother of Invention and Innovation

Jun 16, 2011, 1:55 PM, Posted by

The AARP Solutions Forum: “Advancing Health in Rural America: Maximizing Nursing’s Impact,” was held on June 13. This post is the first in a series in which Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars, who viewed the forum live, share their thoughts on the ideas presented. The author, Tami L. Thomas, Ph.D., C.P.N.P., R.N.C., works with rural populations in Georgia. 

When does an invention or innovation occur? According to Dr. Mary Wakefield it occurs with regularity when the best of nursing and best of rural health care merge with the support of national health policy.

The current challenges of rural health care were discussed Monday morning in Washington, D.C., as policy experts, leaders and key stakeholders met to examine how to improve health care in rural America. Growing up in rural America, my childhood memories include long car drives to see physicians or dentists. Access to care for my father’s family on a rural farm was punctuated by the death of his two-year-old sister, my Aunt Marilyn.

The access to health care problems facing my parents and grandparents are not unlike the problems facing the families I work with in my health promotion research in rural areas.

So I was excited and eager to listen to panelists discuss solutions and innovations like cutting-edge rural health models that could make a difference for the families in rural America.

Health in Rural America today according to experts is marked by: 1) limited access to primary and preventive services; 2) reduced consumer choices; 3) fewer insured people; 4) geographic disparities; 5) higher rates of chronic diseases and dental carriers; and 6) barriers to health promotion activities such as walking (there is limited access to sidewalks on rural roads).

Calls to Action by Experts include: 1) innovative focus on health promotion and population health; 2) promotion of interdisciplinary health teams with the patient as the team leader; 3) school-based health centers, 4) nurse-managed health centers; 5) extending the reach of experts and quality through technology such as telemedicine, mobile phone applications and social networking and 6) start “myth-busting” (bigger is not always better) because quality care can be achieved at very high levels in rural areas.

Calls to Action by Innovators include: 1) maximizing nursing’s strength (there are 3.1 million RNs in the United States and 85 percent are practicing); 2) addressing job dissatisfaction and burnout in rural health care settings; 3) focusing on nursing education in rural areas (bridge programs for CNAs to RNs, RNs to MSN and doctoral levels); and 4) being innovative and active by collaborating and participating in the RWJF Campaign for Action in your state.

The future of families in rural America depends on our response to the Calls to Action discussed by experts and innovators.

As a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar, I had the privilege of being present in Washington, D.C., as recommendations from the Institute of Medicine report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, were announced. As a member of the Georgia Nurse Leader Coalition–the leadership for the Campaign for Action in Georgia–we collaborated to bring together over 400 diverse leaders in nursing, health care and private industry at a historic meeting in February to evaluate and prioritize our next steps to address recommendations and the challenges faced by families living in rural Georgia.

The time for invention, innovation and collaboration is now.

We cannot wait, our patients cannot wait, rural families cannot wait. Please act NOW!

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This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.