Diagnosing Trends in Rural Healthcare Communication

By Emily Bennett

Effective communication in healthcare is crucial, especially in rural communities where resources can be limited, healthcare challenges unique and audience opinions strong. For communicators in the healthcare field, understanding audience pains is essential to creating patient and stakeholder buy-in to make measurable progress toward business goals. 

While the challenges any one healthcare organization or system faces are plentiful, these four topic areas have been prevalent across our healthcare practice area and emphasize the importance of using science-based communication, especially in a rural setting.

1. Opioid Addiction

The opioid crisis has deeply affected rural areas, and how we talk about addiction influences both perception and recovery. Referring to individuals as “addicts” stigmatizes and dehumanizes them, potentially hindering their willingness to seek help. Instead, using person-first language like “individuals with opioid addiction” recognizes their humanity and fosters a more supportive environment for recovery. By choosing our words carefully, we contribute to a more compassionate and effective approach to addressing opioid addiction in our communities.

2. Women’s Health

Women’s health in rural areas often faces unique challenges due to limited access to specialized care. Communication plays a pivotal role in ensuring women understand their healthcare options and feel empowered to make informed decisions. This includes discussing sensitive topics like reproductive health, contraception and preventive care with clarity and empathy. Providing reliable information through trusted local channels bridges the gap and helps women in rural areas access the care they need.

3. School Health Programs

Implementing healthcare programs in schools can be a double-edged sword, particularly in rural areas where community values may vary widely. For example, programs that provide contraceptives without parental knowledge can lead to controversy and mistrust. Transparent communication with parents and the community about the goals and benefits of these programs is essential. Engaging in open dialogues and addressing concerns can help build trust and ensure that these programs support student health without alienating families.

4. Seeking Care Close to Home Versus Larger Cities

Rural residents often face the dilemma of seeking healthcare locally or traveling to larger cities for specialized services. Promoting the benefits of local care, such as convenience and community support, is important. However, it’s also crucial to acknowledge when more specialized care might be necessary. One way to build trust in the local choice is to be transparent and ensure patients have access to complete information about their options. By clearly communicating the strengths and limitations of both local and urban healthcare facilities, we help rural residents make informed decisions about their health.

Effective healthcare communication in rural areas is about more than just conveying information – it’s about creating meaning and fostering understanding by using science-based communication principles. As communicators, we may not be the ones providing direct care, but the ways in which messages are communicated with important audiences can lead to empowered and informed decisions and, ultimately, positive health outcomes.

Interested in learning more about “Telling Your Rural Healthcare Story through the Science of Communication?” Join Melanie Wilt and Emily Bennett for their session on the topic at the upcoming Ohio Rural Health Association conference on July 30!