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The average life expectancy in the U.S. stands at 76.33 years, but this varies widely depending on which state you’re born in. While states with large urban populations like California have an average life expectancy of at least 79 years, individuals in rural states like Mississippi live to just 71.9 years on average.

This gap is representative of the shocking health disparities that have long existed between urban and rural populations in the U.S. — and recent studies have revealed that instead of closing, it is widening at an alarming pace. And it’s not just affecting older people, but younger people too.

According to a new report from the U.S.D.A., rural Americans aged 25-54 are significantly more likely to die from natural causes such as chronic diseases and cancer than their urban counterparts. In the last two decades, this gap has ballooned from just 6% to a staggering 43% — and the trend has been especially pronounced in women, Native Americans, and people living in Southern states.

Now, a recent spate of rural pharmacy and clinic closures threaten to further exacerbate this by leading to greater medication mismanagement—a critical yet often overlooked factor contributing to health disparities between urban and rural populations. Medication mismanagement involves issues such as incorrect dosages, inappropriate prescriptions, failure to adhere to medication regimens, and adverse interactions between multiple medications. These problems can lead to increased healthcare costs as well as severe health consequences, including hospitalizations, prolonged illness, and even death.

However, emerging technology such as artificial intelligence in healthcare stands as a promising solution to tackle this enormous issue and help bridge the rural-urban health divide.

Case Study: Addressing medication mismanagement to improve patient outcomes in Oklahoma

Arine recently partnered with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA), which administers the state’s Medicaid program, to improve health outcomes for over 1.2 million Oklahomans, including those in rural and non-rural areas. Oklahoma is a largely rural state, with up to a third of its population living in remote non-metropolitan areas.

OHCA serves a low-income population that faces significant barriers such as unstable housing, food insecurity, transportation difficulties, and financial hardship, all of which limit access to preventive care. Many members live with multiple chronic conditions and are on more than five medications, increasing the likelihood of medication-related problems. Consequently, these members often experience high healthcare utilization rates, driving up the overall cost of care.

To address these challenges, OHCA partnered with Arine to establish a comprehensive medication management service. Supported by Arine's scalable software platform, this service enabled pharmacists across rural and non-rural settings to enhance quality and outcomes while reducing the total cost of care, making personalized care optimization recommendations for each patient based on in-depth analysis of diverse health and socioeconomic data. The program complemented the extensive network of care services available to Oklahoma’s Medicaid population, reducing the impact that medication-related problems have on the health of this population.

Arine's partnership with OHCA highlights how technology can be harnessed to address health disparities between urban and rural populations. For a more detailed exploration of how Arine and OHCA are transforming healthcare for Oklahomans, we invite you to read our case study.

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Post by Sandy Bonfin, PharmD, BCPS
June 6, 2024
Sandy Bonfin, PharmD, BCPS, is a clinical pharmacist. She writes about medication optimization, medication intelligence, and health equity.

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