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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Washington: Better Access to Data, Informatics Solutions Needed to Address Rural Health Inequities

Differences in the health of rural residents compared to their urban neighbors are startling. While some of the data rural public health officials need to better serve their communities exists, they are hard to access and use.

To understand why, a group of researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health’s Northwest Center for Public Health Practice embarked on the SHARE-NW project: a five-year effort to identify, gather and visualize data in four Northwest states to help rural communities more effectively address health disparities and achieve health equity.

The SHARE-NW project is currently in its third year. The results of the group’s survey of rural leaders were published Aug. 18 in a special health equity issue of the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

“Populations in rural areas already have suffered disproportionately from a lot of negative health outcomes,” said Dr. Betty Bekemeier, director of the Northwest Center, a professor in the UW School of Nursing and adjunct professor in health services in the UW School of Public Health. “Then on top of that, they lack the data, capacity and infrastructure to understand and better address those problems.”

The study identified several barriers to using data, including lack of easy access to timely data, data quality issues specific to rural and tribal communities, and the inability for rural leaders to use those data.

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