Researchers to lead AHA analysis of rural health obstacles

Seattle investigators will coordinate the American Heart Association's $20 million initiative to improve care for millions.

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Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine will oversee a $20 million initiative aimed at better understanding and mitigating factors that negatively influence the health of rural Americans. The American Heart Association (AHA) is funding the new study network, composed of academic scientists in Washington, Oregon, California, North Carolina and Ohio.

With distinct investigations at each study site, the scientists will address unique health challenges that face the 20% of the U.S. population who live in rural areas. These people’s challenges include individual risk factors, social determinants of health and the lack of easy access to healthcare.

White mail doctor
attr Chris Longenecker

The UW School of Medicine will be the coordinating center for the network. Its efforts will be led by Dr. Chris Longenecker, an associate professor of medicine and director of the UW’s Global Cardiovascular Health Program.

“Our network will generate evidence for strategies to reduce persistent rural health inequities in the United States. We'll use technologies like mobile health, drones and artificial intelligence-guided heart ultrasound, and build capacity among health professionals such as pharmacists, emergency medical service providers and community health workers,” Longenecker said.  “We also will work with the sites to generate policy briefs, communication strategies, and advocacy to engage policymakers and bring the evidence we generate to real-world practice.”

Longenecker’s team also will investigate geography’s role in limiting access to the nearest doctor, particularly among American Indians and Latinos, and explore whether other countries’ healthcare-delivery strategies could improve access among rural Americans.

People who live in the rural United States are 40% more likely to develop heart disease and have a 30% higher risk of stroke than urban-area residents, according to AHA data published in 2020.

“Rural populations have higher levels of obesity, diabetes and hypertension and higher rates of tobacco use – all factors that negatively impact heart and brain health. They have also been plagued by increasing prevalence of substance-use disorders associated with opioids and methamphetamines. All of these risk factors contribute to poor health,” said Dr. Michelle Albert, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the AHA’s 2022-23 volunteer president.

Other rural health obstacles include high poverty, lower levels of education, the lack of public transportation and shortages of healthcare facilities and providers. “This new research initiative will explore innovative ways to address these challenges, as well as determine how tried-and-true methods can be used to make meaningful change,” Albert said.

Related: AHA news release about the new network

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Tags:cardiologyrural healthrural medicine

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