Health Equity Research Network on Improving Access to Care and other Health Inequities in Rural America

$20 million awarded for scientific research to address health challenges in rural areas

Reciprocal Innovations to Improve Cardiovascular Care in Rural America (Rural PRO-CARE) is the name of the overarching research network. The coordinating center is managed by a team from the University of Washington School of Medicine, led by Chris Longenecker, MD, FAHA, an associate professor of medicine and director of the university’s Global Cardiovascular Health Program. Key activities of the coordinating center include communication and reporting, scientific and regulatory oversight with the assistance of an expert advisory board, organizing annual meetings and providing a coordinated training curriculum for fellows across the network. The center team also supports collaborative efforts among the five project sites in developing and testing technology-based implementation strategies to promote uptake of evidence-based interventions within local rural practice in the U.S. Drawing on expertise in health policy and workforce development, the center team will help bring research findings to more widespread practice by disseminating policy briefs to policymakers and by conducting workforce training events for allied health professionals.

Five targeted research projects began on July 1, 2023 and will run for four years:

  • Implementation and Scale-up of the American Indian Structural Heart Disease Partnership (IN-STEP)
    Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio
    Led by Andrea Beaton, MD, MS, FAHA

    This team developed an approach to bring heart disease diagnosis closer to where people live. This includes teaching health workers to use portable ultrasound machines to check people for heart disease. These ultrasound machines have tools that help non-experts take the pictures and know if something is wrong. Their goal is to figure out how to bring this approach to more people. In the American Indian community this will be done by patterning with community health representatives (CHRs). CHRs are Tribal members who provide health screening, education, and support. As community members, they understand what people need and how it is best delivered. This study will determine how effective the program is in finding people living with heart disease. It will also look at how communities react to the program and if it is well designed to meet their needs.
  • Developing and Testing Drone-Delivered AEDs for Cardiac Arrests In Rural America
    Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina
    Led by Monique Starks, MD, MHS
    The goal of this team is to use of drones to bring automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) to out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients faster. Every year, more than 350,000 people have a medical emergency called sudden cardiac arrest. It is difficult to survive a cardiac arrest, but fast medical treatment, including CPR and the use of an AED can help. According to the American Heart Association, 9 in 10 cardiac arrest victims who receive a shock from an AED in the first minute live. Right now, it takes at least 8-10 minutes for emergency responders to reach most out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients. This study aims to help more people survive, especially in rural areas where it takes longer for health care professional help to arrive.
  • Rural Community Peer Partnerships for Improving Methamphetamine-Associated Heart Failure Screening and Engagement
    Oregon Health & Science University in Portland
    Led by Todd Korthuis, MD, MPH

    This team aims to improve the identification of risks and the treatment of heart failure among people who use methamphetamine. Oregon currently has rural peer recovery support specialists who work with people who use drugs and facilitate screening and linkage to telemedicine for hepatitis C treatment. Similar peer-based telemedicine approaches may also improve heart failure care in rural Oregon communities where 97% of people who use drugs report recent methamphetamine use. The team will train rural heath peer specialists to incorporate into their routine outreach work ways to assess the risk of heart failure among people who use methamphetamine. People at increased risk of heart failure will be assigned to remote heart expert team visits using the internet arranged by peers or referred for local cardiology care. This study will improve rural health by increasing the number of people working on this issue, and by finding new ways to improve life for people in rural areas who experience substance use disorders.
  • Implementation and Evaluation of Pharmacist-Based Management of Chronic Heart Failure for Rural Veterans (PHARM-HF)
    VA Palo Alto Health Care System in Palo Alto, California
    Led by Paul Heidenreich, MD, MS, FAHA

    This team will test ways to increase care by pharmacists for rural veterans with heart failure. The team will train pharmacists on heart failure care and determine if this approach will expand heart failure care delivery in rural areas. Patient engagement is also critical for the best care and patients can advocate for their best care if they have the proper knowledge. Therefore, the team will modify an existing smart phone education app to help rural veteran patients learn about their heart failure and test if using the app improves care. 
  • GROW-RURAL: A Global to Rural Innovation Network to Adapt Evidence-Based Cardiovascular Interventions to Context
    University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle
    Also led by Dr. Longenecker, this team will study people with health challenges living in rural areas of the United States including special rural ethnic groups of people like American Indians and Latinos. The team will look into how geography plays a role when long distances to the nearest doctor can limit access to care. They will also explore whether new ways of delivering health care in other countries may be adapted in the rural U.S. Their goal is to discover barriers and opportunities to improve heart health care and then let local health workers and patients design programs to test new innovations in their communities.


Mother with three children walking on a path with pastures on either side and a backdrop of trees. People who live in rural areas of the U.S. are 40% more likely to develop heart disease and have a 30% higher risk of stroke than people who live in urban areas, according to data reported in the 2020 Call to Action: Rural Health: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. At least 20% of the U.S. population live in rural areas and these people face unique health challenges related to individual risk factors, social determinants of health and lack of access to health care. To address this issue, the American Heart Association, the world's leading nonprofit organization focused on heart and brain health for all, is funding a new $20 million scientific research initiative comprised of a network of special projects focused on advancing the understanding of the factors that impact health in rural America.

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