Sunday, August 9, 2009

Planning the future of rural research

The National Center for Minority Health Disparities (NCMHD) and the Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP) convened a terriric meeting in DC July 30 and 31, in which the SCRHRC participated. The overall purpose of the meeting, in the words of the pre-meeting materials, was to provide NCMHD and ORHP with more insight into the best practices, research gaps, and innovation opportunities in addressing and eliminating rural health disparities.” About 30 rural health researchers and representatives of significant rural population groups met to work on defining research opportunities that NCMHD may wish to pursue to reduce disparities experienced by rural (not necessarily minority) populations.

This was a working meeting, not a listening meeting. Participants were divided into three groups, and each group spent the day brainstorming research recommendations for the three areas outlined: best practices, research gaps, and innovation opportunities. The task was harder than it sounds. First, “research gaps” kept sneaking into every discussion. As the rural community has been saying for years, we lack data and quality research on so many aspects of rural: disease burden, health behavior, health care systems operation, and outcomes. Second, it’s hard to keep “best practices” from sneaking into innovation. We know a good thing when we see it. At least, we think it’s a good thing; research is needed to confirm that a cool idea is a best practice. But it’s hard to sit around a table at a hotel in DC and predict the next new thing! Back in the day, I bought a Betamax (kids, ask your parents), so I definitely don’t set myself up as an innovation predictor.

By 5:00 Thursday afternoon, the participants were all drooping slightly from the effort of expending so much creativity. During the Friday summary presentations and discussion, it was clear that most of us agreed on some issues: need for rural data, workforce as a lasting issue, the need for partnerships. The list of topics in all areas was fairly deep and extensive. The proceedings should make a very interesting document.