Today’s National Public Health Week theme is rural health and our guest blog is by Dara Richardson-Heron, MD, chief engagement officer with the All of Us Research Program.

Dara Richardson HeronAhead of National Public Health Week, I’ve been reflecting on my discussion at the Rural Health Disparities Summit, which was part of the National Rural Health Association’s (NRHA) Policy Institute conference in February this year. At the summit, I had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of advocates about the tough questions of how we can combat the health challenges millions of rural Americans face through improved biomedical research and smart public policy.

This is a vital issue because 1 in 5 Americans live outside of urban centers and are facing serious health disparities. This week is another opportunity for us to ask: How can we better support communities that still struggle with poor health outcomes?

In 2019, rural Americans still grapple with unacceptable health discrepancies.

Compared to urban communities, rural populations face:

  • 38% higher rates of coronary heart disease;
  • 8.6% higher rates of diabetes, and
  • 5.5% higher rates of obesity.

These problems are made worse by a patient-to-primary care physician ratio roughly 25% lower than in U.S. cities.

As chief engagement officer for the All of Us Research Program, I work with diverse groups from all across the country — along with partner organizations like the American Public Health Association — to help raise awareness and participation in this historic biomedical research project. All of Us is a national initiative to gather the health data of 1 million or more individuals living in the U.S. into a research database to accelerate medical breakthroughs, improve health and advance precision medicine. Precision medicine is medical treatment that takes into account not only a patient’s health information but also factors such as their genetic makeup, socioeconomic status, where they live and what they do for a living.

The communities we’re working with, including rural Americans, have been historically underrepresented in medical research and have felt the pain of that lack of inclusion for far too long. At All of Us, we want to reverse that trend. Our program’s goal is to have 75% of the 1 million participants come from diverse communities so the treatment and prevention strategies that develop from the data meet all of our needs. The work we are doing has the potential to create a positive impact that will last for generations.

Our goals are ambitious, and we know it is going to take a lot of hard work to reach them. Reaching out to underserved communities will have unique challenges. For example, rural Americans are spread so far and wide, and many face a digital divide with not enough access to broadband. This is why All of Us partners with organizations like NRHA, whose local chapters in states from Florida to Washington are helping to spread the word at local community events and health worker training programs. The program also has two mobile engagement units called the All of Us Journey that have traveled to nearly a hundred locations around the country to share information in-person.

I hope you’ll join me in taking steps to end health care inequality for all Americans.