Patient retention is essential when creating sustainable rural mental health programs because this ensures patients are receiving appropriate and consistent follow-up care. Additionally, good patient retention helps to ensure stable reimbursement for mental health programs and avoids the financial costs to providers of missed appointments.
In order to address patient retention, rural communities should be aware of the unique barriers to continued care that rural patients encounter. These barriers were discussed in detail in Module 1, and there are several strategies that rural communities can use to alleviate them in order to ensure good patient retention. For example, rural mental health programs can take steps to address transportation barriers using information from RHIhub's Rural Transportation Toolkit.
Additionally, rural communities can create sustainable mental health programs by fostering supportive communities to counter stigma. One option to foster supportive communities is to create a community anti-stigma campaign. These campaigns can be effective ways to raise awareness about mental health conditions and decrease both self-stigma and public stigma, which will help patients to feel comfortable seeking ongoing treatment.
Program staff also play an important role in patient retention. If staff members are able to reach out to patients and establish supportive, therapeutic relationships, patients are more likely to be engaged in their care.
Rural healthcare organizations can counter barriers related to financial costs of care by creating new staff roles such as care coordinators to assist patients with applying or reapplying for insurance. Additionally, expanded mental health parity laws create equal coverage for both mental health and physical needs.
Resources to Learn More
Rural Transportation Toolkit
Describes transportation challenges in rural communities and how to address these challenges.
Organization(s): Rural Health Information Hub
Provides information on mental health stigma and how to counter stigma.
Organization(s): National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)