A Sustainable Model for Preventive Services in Rural Counties: The Healthier Together Study

J Am Board Fam Med. 2020 Sep-Oct;33(5):698-706. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2020.05.190357.


Objective: The Healthier Together study aimed to implement and evaluate a sustainable, rural community-based patient outreach model for preventive care provided through primary care practices located in 3 rural counties in Oklahoma. Community-based wellness coordinators (WCs) working with primary care practitioners, county health departments, local hospitals, and health information exchange (HIE) networks helped residents receive high-priority evidence-based preventive services.

Methods: The WCs used a wellness registry connected to electronic medical records and HIEs and called patients at the county level, based on primary care practitioner-preferred protocols. The registry flagged patient-level preventive care gaps, tracked outreach efforts, and documented the delivery of services throughout the community. Return on investment (ROI) in participating organizations was estimated by the study team.

Results: Forty-four of the 59 eligible clinician practices participated in the study. Two regional HIEs supplied periodic health data updates for 71,989 patients seen in the 3 implementation counties. A total of 45,862 outreach calls were made by 6 WCs, 100,896 high-priority recommendations were offered to patients based on care gaps and 14,043 additional services were delivered. Of all the patients reached, only 1917 (4.2%) were up to date on all prioritized services. Participating primary care practices significantly improved the delivery of preventive services (mean increase: 20.2% across 12 services; P < .001; range: 7% to 43%) and realized a mean ROI of 68%. Health systems that employed the WCs earned a mean revenue of $175,000, realizing a 75% ROI for the outreach program.

Conclusions: Although health care is under-resourced and segmented in many rural counties, when stakeholder partnerships are established, they may be able to achieve and economically sustain community-wide health improvement by creating a win-win situation for all partners.

Keywords: Chronic Disease; Electronic Health Records; Health Information Exchange; Oklahoma; Practice-Based Research; Preventive Health Services; Primary Health Care; Public Health; Registries; Rural Health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Health Information Exchange
  • Humans
  • Models, Organizational*
  • Oklahoma
  • Preventive Health Services* / organization & administration
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration
  • Rural Health Services* / organization & administration