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What can rural agencies do to address the additional costs of rural services? A typology of rural service innovation

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There is a national commitment to ensuring that, regardless of where patients live, they should be provided with an acceptable level of service in terms of quality, effectiveness and accessibility. Because of differences in the distributions of their populations, rural and urban areas present quite different challenges for the optimal design of health services and social care. However, this has not been fully acknowledged in the development of national policies to unify service standards. The problems of providing services in sparsely populated areas are not new. However, until the case for a rural premium in English health resource allocation is accepted, rural agencies must either tolerate lower levels of services (an option made difficult by the introduction of national service standards) or develop very different approaches to service delivery. To date, there has been little systematic knowledge about the extent of innovative rural practice, a paucity of evaluation of such initiatives and few opportunities to disseminate learning from one area to another. The present paper begins to address this deficit. Drawing upon a review of the formal literature and a comprehensive evaluation of projects developed within a rural Health Action Zone, it presents a typology of innovative responses at the health/social care interface. Examples of service innovations which fall into six broad categories are provided. These not only suggest possibilities for the transfer of good practice, but also the potential for future research.
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Keywords: Health Action Zone; rurality; service costs; service innovation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Sociology, Politics and Law, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK

Publication date: November 1, 2004

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