Every hometown has its own spirit, but that uniqueness may be a little more universal than we realize. That’s because 25 percent of all Americans live within a rural community, according to The National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH).
According to the NOSORH website, they exist “to improve access to, and the quality of, health care for 57 million rural Americans” — or the number of us throughout the country who call small towns “home.”
This coming week is National Rural Healthcare Week, a time when rural healthcare organizations like Penn Highlands engage in information sharing with their communities and each other. Healthcare professionals recognize that providing communities like ours with access to healthcare is a much different responsibility than it is in more urban environments. “Generally, there are fewer providers per person in rural areas, so our patients have to travel farther for their care,” says Tonya Kozminski, DO, Interim Program Director of the Penn Highlands Family Medicine Residency. “Often that means they end up being sent to big cities for more advanced things, but we can actually send most patients to DuBois to get things taken care of.” Another advantage that Penn Highlands delivers to patients is the ongoing recruitment of exceptional physicians, providing patients throughout the region with the ability to see specialists in areas like cardiology, neurosurgery, and lung and cancer care — all at the facility that’s closest to their community.
With national data showing that patients experience better outcomes when they feel trust in their provider, Kozminski explains one aspect of why that might be. “Most of the doctors who practice here are living in this area, and they understand the economics of the area — so we are able to care for a patient who’s a farmer, knowing what they do and what their schedule is like. We understand that we may have to tailor their treatment to what they can do while maintaining their livelihood. Their needs may be different from the needs of a patient who works nine to five. As a doctor or provider in the rural setting, you’re more aware of that.” For the Penn Highlands medical residents who have recently graduated from medical school and now are completing their training in our communities, Kozminski says this presents a valuable lesson. “The residents are being exposed to the idea that in rural health you have a little more personal interaction with your patients. They’re finding out how much they really enjoy that as part of their training.”
Appropriately, this year’s topics as part of the National Rural Healthcare Week educational series focus largely around COVID-19 — so here, we look at how Penn Highlands is responding to patients’ needs in the context of key areas that are also especially important in our region.
Kozminski says that this year has presented an unexpected but impressive benefit of hometown care: patients have been receptive to following COVID-19 precautions at Penn Highlands because they understand these safety measures have been put in place to protect them and other patients. “I feel like patients and staff of the rural clinic adjusted to the COVID changes seamlessly. It was just matter of fact, like ‘you have to do what you have to do to protect each other.’ That was nice.”
To keep themselves extra safe during the pandemic, Penn Highlands patients have found telemedicine (also referred to as “telehealth”) as a means to see their doctor while reducing their own risk of COVID-19 exposure. Offering the ability to consult with your healthcare provider by phone, computer, or tablet, telehealth is “an efficient way to enhance access to care,” according to NOSORH. Penn Highlands professionals agree. “Telemedicine has served hundreds of patients in our region this year,” says Angela Rhodes, RN, BSN, director of telemedicine for Penn Highlands Healthcare. “Our MyHealthNow app is free to download and gives patients access to their physician from wherever they are.” If you don’t already have the Penn Highlands MyHealthNow app, the time to get it is now — before you even need it. If you need an appointment to see your Penn Highlands provider online, call their office to schedule it, then follow their process to register and schedule. Registration only takes two minutes, and the app is federally recognized as secure and private.
One crucial aspect of hometown living that many of us love most is the dedication we show in taking care of each other. Blood remains in short supply in many regions, including ours, but this coming week your blood donation that could save a neighbor’s life also comes with an added benefit to you: the Community Blood Bank, Penn Highlands blood drive partner, is offering free COVID-19 antibody screening to donors. The next Community Blood Bank blood drive for Penn Highlands will take place on Friday, November 20 from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM at Penn Highlands DuBois’s Central Resource Center (204 Hospital Avenue).
The Penn Highlands Family Medicine Residency Clinic sees patients of all ages. To learn more, visit www.phhealthcare.org/fmrc. For more information on Penn Highlands telemedicine services, visit www.phhealthcare.org/myhealthnow. To register to give blood and receive a screening for COVID-19 antibodies, sign up for the November 20 blood drive at www.fourhearts.org or simply show up to next Friday’s blood drive.