How Do You Know What Your Community Needs?Read Time: 4 minutes
Healthcare organizations have the primary goal of providing medical care to the community. Besides just providing care, however, healthcare providers should also strive to provide high-quality care and to provide the types of services that a specific community needs. In rural areas, small hospitals are often the only sources of healthcare. Knowing what that rural community needs is vital to providing the very best care. How can hospitals understand the needs of the community? Community engagement is the best place to start.
What is community engagement?
Community engagement is the processing of collaborating to identify the health needs of a particular population. The process starts with identifying what programs and strategies will most benefit a community. In rural communities, these needs can be very specific. Often, the small local hospital is a population’s only option for healthcare. In these cases, knowing the rural community’s needs is crucial.
Why does engagement matter?
Strong relationships between healthcare organizations and consumers have been connected to a host of benefits for all parties. Lowered readmission rates, better adherence to treatment plans, and reduced lengths of stay are just a few examples. In turn, these benefits help to reduce overall costs for the hospital. The result is better workforce engagement and retention, as well as improved patient experience.
Specific benefits for rural hospitals
Increasing efficiency and reducing costs is of utmost importance for rural hospitals. These facilities often struggle to achieve economies of scale and meet a budget. In addition to engaging with the community, these smaller hospitals can improve efficiency even further by employing hospitalists. Research has found that hiring these specialized physicians can help reduce physician burnout, improve retention, and decrease lengths of stay. Hospitalists can also improve patient satisfaction, as these specialists serve as a clear point of contact for patients and families.
What strategies work?
Studies have shown that community engagement is effective in promoting the health of a community when the right strategies are used. Some of the most effective engagement tools include the establishment of community advisory councils, conducting research on what programs will most positively affect a specific community, and taking steps to incorporate the voices and needs of indigenous and ethnic populations. In rural areas, this last point is often particularly important as smaller communities often have higher percentages of indigenous and ethnic populations. Studies have found that active community engagement in healthcare can reduce obesity, improve mental health, quality of life, and reduce neonatal mortality.
Rural hospitals fill a crucial role in a community. For many, the local hospital is the only access point for healthcare. In cases of natural disaster or other unexpected emergency, the community hospital is critical. Smaller hospitals need to understand that having plans in place for unforeseen emergencies is an integral part of serving a rural community.
A worthwhile process of engagement
Engaging effectively with the community is a complex process. Though not always easy, undergoing this strategic process is crucial to improving the health of a community. Making community engagement a priority doesn’t only benefit community members, but also leads to the success of the rural hospital as well.