Technology and Social Determinants: Leveraging Digital Solutions To Improve Rural Healthcare


In rural communities, access to quality healthcare remains a significant challenge, perpetuating inequalities deeply rooted in the social determinants of health (SDOH). Factors such as socioeconomic disadvantages, educational gaps, and inadequate infrastructure contribute to the health disparities experienced by rural populations.

Amid these challenges, technology has emerged as a beacon of hope, offering innovative solutions to bridge the gap between rural communities and healthcare resources. With digital solutions, opportunities exist to revolutionize rural healthcare to ensure all individuals — regardless of their geographic location or exposure to SDOH — have access to the care they deserve.

Understanding social determinants of health

Social determinants of health refer to the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age — all of which have a profound impact on their health and well-being. These determinants are shaped by various factors, including socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood environment, and healthcare access. In simplest terms, not everyone has inherent opportunities for good health.

Addressing SDOH is crucial for achieving health equity and improving the health outcomes of communities, especially in rural areas where these factors can be particularly influential. Key SDOH factors affecting rural populations include:

  • Access to healthcare facilities and providers: Rural communities face challenges with scarce healthcare facilities and providers due to remote locations and lower incentives. These issues result in long travel distances and delayed treatment, impacting health outcomes.
  • Socioeconomic status and poverty: Rural areas experience higher poverty rates and limited economic opportunities, affecting their access to healthy food, safe housing, education, and preventive care.
  • Education and health literacy: Lower education levels in rural communities lead to reduced health literacy, causing difficulties in understanding health information, managing chronic conditions, and making informed healthcare decisions.
  • Infrastructure and transportation challenges: Inadequate roads and public transportation in rural regions create obstacles to healthcare access, particularly for those with mobility issues or without personal vehicles.
  • Social and cultural factors: Unique cultural beliefs, norms, and traditions in rural areas influence behaviors and access to healthcare. It’s not always easy to find culturally sensitive providers who align with community values.

All these factors add up to create healthcare disparities in rural areas, including limited access to care, higher rates of chronic diseases, health education gaps, and lack of preventive care.

Using technology to overcome rural SDOH

To surmount rural SDOH challenges, healthcare organizations are turning to technology as a great equalizer. Digitization is making it easier to access relevant information, communicate with healthcare professionals, and seek all types of care. Here are some examples:

  • Telehealth has helped improve access to healthcare services for rural populations. Through telemedicine consultations, patients in remote regions can connect with healthcare providers virtually, reducing the need for extensive travel.
  • Remote patient monitoring has become increasingly prevalent, allowing healthcare professionals to track their patients’ health conditions from a distance and intervene promptly when necessary.
  • Electronic health records (EHRs) have further enhanced care coordination and continuity, providing rural communities with better access to their medical history and facilitating more efficient healthcare delivery.

Even smartphones — whose adoption is rising in rural communities — can lead to better access. Through mobile devices, healthcare information and resources can be disseminated to individuals, empowering them to make informed decisions about their health.

On a macro scale, data analytics and population health management tools have been instrumental in identifying patterns and trends within rural populations. Analyzing health data at a broader level allows the implementation of targeted interventions and public health initiatives to address specific health disparities and improve the well-being of rural communities.

Implementation challenges

While technology has the potential to help rural populations, it’s not without its challenges. Infrastructure limitations and connectivity issues hinder the integration of technological solutions, impacting access. Affordability and an uncertain return on their technology investments also pose financial obstacles for healthcare providers and patients. Additionally, digital literacy and technological barriers among rural populations may impede their ability to leverage these advancements.

Overcoming these challenges requires collaboration between providers and patients to develop strategies for optimizing the benefits of technology against SDOH considerations.

Connecting rural communities to better outcomes

To address the healthcare disparities faced by rural populations, providers must make continuous, concerted efforts to guarantee technology is available and accessible to their patients. By investing in telehealth infrastructure, promoting digital literacy, and ensuring equitable access to technological solutions, providers can empower patients to overcome barriers posed by social determinants of health.

Although technology adoption is certain to come with some resistance and hurdles, surmounting them will be paramount to close the healthcare disparities in rural communities and foster better outcomes among populations in dire need of them.

Learn more about how EHRs can empower patient populations at