This is one in a series of blog posts to coincide with National Rural Health Day. To follow the conversation on Twitter, look for #RuralHealth.

Since the summer of 2010, ONC and HRSA’s Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP) have teamed up in support of rural health and rural economic development, with a focus on helping rural providers and hospitals leverage technology to optimize their communities’ health systems. Our goal is simple but not easy: improve care quality across the spectrum of care for rural communities.

The White House Rural Council and Secretary Sebelius’s Rural Health IT Task Force

In the summer of 2010, Secretary Sebelius convened an HHS Rural Health IT Task Force of seven member agencies (Indian Health Service, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality), co-chaired by ONC and ORHP. This Task Force helps rural communities in their efforts to adopt and meaningfully use health IT. In the summer of 2011, President Obama convened the White House Rural Council to streamline and improve the effectiveness of Federal programs serving rural America with an eye toward boosting healthcare and job creation.

With the backing of these two groups, we set out to accomplish the 6 goals outlined below.

ONC’s and ORHP’s Joint Rural Health Strategy and Goals

  1. Expanding funding for rural health IT.
  2. Improving care coordination and quality for rural veterans.
  3. Promoting rural health IT workforce development.
  4. Expanding access to affordable, sufficient and secure broadband connectivity for rural health care providers and hospitals and the communities they serve.
  5. Developing tools and resources to address the most pressing health IT needs of rural health care providers and hospitals.
  6. Extending local technical assistance to rural providers and hospitals working to achieve the first stages of Meaningful Use.

Collaborating with Federal and Private Sector Partners

To achieve these goals, we are coordinating with the US Departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, Labor and Education, Federal Communications Commission, Appalachian Regional Commission, Delta Regional Authority, National Rural Health Association, National Rural Economic Development Association and many other Federal and private sector partners.

Expanding Funding for Rural Health IT

In August 2011, ONC and HRSA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with USDA linking rural health clinics and hospitals to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants and loans to support the acquisition of health IT infrastructure (e.g., hardware and software).

We launched a series of activities and initiatives to implement our MOU. As an initial step, we convened a virtual meeting in February 2012 with more than 400 participants from across the country. Among other objectives, the purpose of this meeting was to convey the urgency and value of investing in rural health IT and assisting rural providers and hospitals achieve Meaningful Use. We also convened three regional meetings last year for USDA State Directors and HHS grantees to work together to link rural communities to funding from the USDA’s Community …read more