As we continue our series on Advancing Rural Health, we recognize rural Americans experience a unique combination of factors that create disparities in healthcare not found in urban areas. This market environment creates the need for innovative thinking and a strong connection with the community that fosters better health. In our strategy work with rural and critical access hospitals, we are continually reminded how primary care providers should be positioned as the catalysts for better health in rural communities. Studies show the comprehensive services provided by a primary care practice are associated with better overall health.
The shortage of physicians in rural communities is one of the most pressing concerns of the American healthcare system. As president of a strategy-first marketing firm that works with healthcare organizations of all sizes, including rural health providers, I often see clients place an unnecessary emphasis on the need, or perception of need, for routine access to specialty care. By contrast, our strategic advice is to reacquaint the community with the value of primary care and family medicine.
Because of their extensive training, family physicians are the only specialists qualified to treat most ailments and provide comprehensive health care for people of all ages – from newborns to seniors.
– The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)
Of course, the obvious question to ask is this: Do consumers value primary care providers as their specialists for life, or are consumers steadfast in their desire for specialty care?
We believe there is value in renewing the public’s choice for primary care. Promoting the benefits of routine primary care allows providers in that space – from family practice to internal medicine – to better fulfill their shared purpose: delivering quality healthcare for individuals and families across their lifetimes.Advancing Rural Health: Promoting the Value of Primary Care - Click To Tweet
For consumers to properly assess their options for care that keeps them healthy – beyond options for acute care when they are not – it’s important for them to understand that primary care plays a critical role in their local healthcare system. Primary care providers perform several key functions and make several core contributions to the patient as well as the system, and for that, it is a field of medicine that should be recognized as highly relevant to the health of a local community.
That recognition is a foundational aspect of the strategic approaches we take with our rural hospital clients. We understand how primary care providers can serve not only as a patient’s point of entry into the healthcare system, but also as the continual resource for all healthcare needs. We see opportunity in driving consumer choice for primary care as the catalyst for overall health. That’s why, to our rural and critical access hospital clients, we emphasize the importance of communicating how primary care:
- Addresses a wide range of health issues, offering a place for patients to bring a wide range of health problems
- Guides patients to the right resources for better health, navigating patients through the health system, including specialty referrals
- Fosters informed decision-making by patients, encouraging patients to make knowledgeable choices about their health
- Focuses on prevention and early detection, providing opportunities for screenings, tests, and education for disease prevention and early detection
- Connects people to the larger continuum of care, linking healthcare services, families and communities together to assist in the health needs of the patient
As communicators, if we can connect people with primary care providers to spur better health, we have served the community well, and we will impact health for generations to come.*
Reader Tip: For more information on the value of primary care, I recommend a research book published by the Institute of Medicine, Primary Care: America’s Health in a New Era. While it is not a recent publication, the content still rings true about the contributions of primary care as foundational to America’s health.
Author’s Note: This article is Part 3 of our series on Advancing Rural Health. I encourage you to dive into the rest of the series as well:
- Part 1 – Addressing Market Challenges: Pivoting to accommodate the rural market forces at play in order to sustain and improve health in your community
- Part 2 – From Healthcare to Lifecare: The visionary lifecare model and how it applies to your rural health organization
- Part 4 – Seven Steps to Service Line Marketing Strategy: A data-driven process to prioritize marketing dollars for service line growth
* For rural health organizations in need of new strategies and tactics to advance health in the local community, expert assistance is within reach. Find out how dhgstudio+ delivers the expertise you need to build awareness, shape new programs, deepen connections between your brand and the local community, and form community partnerships to sustain the presence of local healthcare.
About the Author
Julie Amor, MHA, President and Chief Strategy Officer for Dobies Healthcare Group, has 30 years of experience elevating healthcare brands. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup, connecting with us on LinkedIn, or by commenting on our Facebook page.